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By MARGO HAMMOND
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 26, 1999
Dave Barry is making this up.
In Big Trouble, the Miami-based humor columnist finally turns his considerable comic talents to fiction, and the result is stranger than truth -- and even funnier.
With a nod to fellow Miami Herald writer Carl Hiaasen, "who is the master of the genre I tried to write in -- the Bunch of South Florida Wackos genre," Barry serves up a rollicking tale that not only introduces us to a truly wacky bunch of South Floridians but also throws in an honest-to-goodness plot.
First, there is Matt, a bumbling high school kid who is playing a game called Killer that requires him to "kill" a nubile classmate named Jenny Herk with a Squirtmaster 9000. Jenny is the daughter of Anna (pretty nubile herself) and the stepdaughter of Arthur Herk (which, not by accident, rhymes with Jerk). Matt is the son of Elliot, a lousy but endearing adman who falls for the long-suffering Anna. Coincidentally (but good for Barry's honest-to-goodness plot) Matt shows up at the Herk household to "shoot" Jenny at the same time two real hitmen (Henry and Leonard) show up to kill (really kill) Herk. Officials at Pentultimate Inc., the corrupt construction company for which the truly despicable Herk works, have discovered that he has been embezzling money from them and they've ordered him to be bumped off.
Now toss in Snake and Eddie, two sleazy small-time crooks; Russian emigres Ivan Chukov and Leonid Yudanski, who sell arms out of the Jolly Jackal Bar and Grill; Miami police officer Monica Ramirez and her hapless partner Walter Kramitz; FBI agents Greer and Seitz; the Herk's nubile Spanish maid Nina; a sweet homeless man named Puggy who has camped out in the Herk's back yard; Miami police Detective Baker; and a nuclear bomb, and you have all the ingredients for the usual Miami-based crazy caper. Oh, and did I mention Roger, the Herk's dog, who is terrorized by the Enemy Toad?
Barry's most memorable scene takes place in the Miami airport, where nearly all his characters (save Roger the dog and the Enemy Toad) end up converging in a finale that is far from harmonic. Up until this moment, I thought Barry lacked the kind of social commentary that makes Hiaasen's novels rise above the merely wacky. But Barry's description of airport security is positively Swiftian.
Snake, who has stolen a suitcase that he mistakenly believes is filled with drugs, is at the airport with his partner Eddie (as well as Jenny and Puggy, who are there only because Snake is holding a gun to their heads). The two crooks are trying to get on a flight to the Bahamas, where Snake hopes to set himself up as a drug lord. Their first hurdle is airport security:
"It was the standard airport-security operation, which meant it appeared to have been designed to hassle law-abiding passengers just enough to reassure them, while at the same time providing virtually no protection against criminals with an IQ higher than celery," Barry writes. Not surprisingly, it takes Snake, "who had never seen an airport security checkpoint, about two minutes to figure out how he would get his gun through." The trick? Those ubiquitous laptop computer checks. "In the world of the security checkpoint, the fact that a computer could be turned on served as absolute proof that it was not a bomb," Barry writes.
In fact, while the harried security employees are distracted checking to see if yet another laptop computer will turn on, Snake easily passes his gun, hidden in a sweatshirt, through the pass-through shelf. Never mind that the suitcase Snake pushes through the security check is carrying a nuclear bomb. The security personnel merely ask him to turn it on, which, of course, not only activates the bomb but also Barry's truly inspired denouement.
To Barry's credit, the exits and entrances of all his characters are as effortless (and as comical) as the comings and goings in Duck Soup, while the twists and turns of his honest-to-goodness plot are every bit as entertaining as Get Shorty (coincidentally based on a book by Barry's good friend Elmore Leonard). In fact, come to think of it, Big Trouble would make an excellent movie.
Something, I am sure, that never once crossed Barry's literary mind when he was penning this farce.
Humor columnist Dave Barry enters the world of fiction and makes it a little stranger than he found it as he introduces us to some wacky South Floridians in Big Trouble.
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