The Big Easy (1987) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna


This film is a latter day noir mystery set in N'Awlins which has a few little inside jokes at the expense of genre convention. Although not a genre parody, and in fact a fairly serious drama, it really seems to enjoy twisting the genre clichés into unrecognizable shapes

It builds up a preposterously complex web of gang squabbles, involving so many rival gangs and "messages" that even the guy who wrote "Lock, Stock ..." would get lost in it. I couldn't even follow their explanations for why some of the characters were killed.

So what's the joke? None of it was true. There was nothing but a very simple evidence rip-off by some dirty cops. The complex web was all fabricated by a group of police insiders who figured they may as well screw up some gangs while they were scamming off plenty for themselves. I am impressed with a willingness to take such liberties with genre expectations.


Dennis Quaid shows his buns in a dressing scene.

Ellen Barkin shows her breasts in a dark sex scene, then again from the side-rear when she awakens, then shows her buns when she creeps up on a guy while she is clad only in a towel

The film also twists the usual plot convention about the female DA investigating the hot-shot cop before they fall in love. In the genre cliche, the cop turns out to be a bit of a renegade, but really a good cop who bends the rules a little in the interest of justice. In this case, it turns out that the cop really is dirty, and the surprised DA has to bring him to trial right after sleeping with him. Then, after he weasels out of the prosecution by having his buddies destroy the key evidence, he finds out that his buddies intended him to be a patsy all along. Even though he is dirty in terms of minor graft, he has no concept of just how dirty his buddies are.

The film also includes a unique overlay of real N'Awlins locales and Zydeco music, and exceptionally deep character development of the two main romantic leads, so it's a generally excellent twist on the usual dirty cop story, and the sex scenes, while not very explicit, are very erotic and sexy. Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin may also get the all-time award for the screen couple with the lowest combined percentage of body fat. Barkin's rippling back and Quaid's perfect abs are very impressive, indeed!

This movie was kind of a fluke in the career of director Jim McBride. He was 46 when he made this film, and didn't do much noteworthy before or after, except for a youthful piece of cinema verité that attracted some attention in the NYU turtleneck set.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features


The Big Easy (1987) Stars Randy Quaid as a New Orleans PD detective, and Ellen Barkin as a deputy DA investigating police corruption. The film starts with the murder of a "wise guy," and Quaid is called upon to work with Barkin. As the apparent mod war escalates, Quaid romances Barkin, until he is caught by a sting operation accepting a contribution to the police "widows and orphans fund." Barkin prosecutes him, and he barely beats the rap. In case some of you haven't seen it, I will stop in mid plot.

Barkin shows a breast from the side, and most of her buns. The film itself is full of colorful New Orleans scenery and wonderful Cajun music, has a pretty fair police thriller, a love story, and nudity from Ellen Barkin. You can't ask for a whole lot more in an entertainment film. The film is better than the IMDB 6.6. It has real passion, fascinating characters, music, humor and a good mystery. B-.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 4/4, Maltin 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 6.6/10
  • with their dollars ... domestic box was $18 million


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. Good, atmospheric flick which plays due homage to its literal and spiritual parent, the city of New Orleans.

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