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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Take a Random Amble With 'The Dude'

Connoisseurs of the Coen Brothers movie-making team will likely find "The Big Lebowski," now playing at the Dome Theater, to be one of the minor ornaments of their oeuvre, a pleasing if not astounding addition to a fiercely quirky body of work.

In fact, newcomers to the Coen mode might enjoy the movie even more, for with its shambling anarchy, finely-turned dialogue and frequent flights of unbound fantasy it resembles nothing so much as the Coens' breakthrough comedy, "Raising Arizona."

Indeed, the critical rap on "Lebowski" when it premiered in the West was that it represented a "step back" from the Oscar-winning "Fargo" of 1996.

Director-writer Joel and writer-producer Ethan have always been known for the keen but cold eye they cast on their characters, but "Fargo's" tale of kidnapping and murder in the American North had an unprecedented element of human feeling, a dimension of depth that occasionally opened up where steely irony might have been expected.

But it must be said that at times this "human element" seemed to fit the brothers like a cheap suit. "Lebowski's" return to the manic inventiveness of the "Arizona" days is not necessarily a bad thing. The essence of the Coens' art is the dazzling style of the elusive, allusive, self-contained worlds they create on screen. To look for some deeper vision is to miss the point: the detritus of modern life and the reverberating echoes of our media culture are both method and matter of their work. In a world where soul is missing and presumed dead, the brothers see no need to go beyond the fractured, fascinating surfaces of things.

And this they do with great style here. The excellent cast tears into their well-written roles with gusto; even minor characters are carefully shaped, and stoutly played.

The film centers on the misadventures of The Dude (Jeff Bridges), a paunchy, aging, '60s relic known as "the laziest man in Los Angeles County." The Dude does little more than smoke weed and amble over to the local bowling alley for a game with his friends: the tightly-wound Walter Sobchack (John Goodman), a Vietnam vet and Polish Catholic turned highly unlikely Orthodox Jew; and Danny (Steve Buscemi), a nervous, verbally-challenged dullard.

There they often confront a maniacal rival bowler named Jesus. John Turturro gives a deliciously over-the-top performance in the role. His Jesus is the kind of guy who, after serving a term for rape, goes door-to-door to let his new neighbors know there is now a sex offender living in the area.

The lackadaisical life of the Dude (whose last name happens to be Lebowski) takes a bizarre turn when he is roughed up by minions of a porn merchant (Ben Gazzara). The thugs have mistaken him for the Big Lebowski (David Huddleston), an eccentric millionaire whose wife is in debt to the pornographer. In the course of their misdirected assault, they ruin the Dude's prized rug. This is the last straw -- "It really tied the room together," he says -- so he goes to seek compensation from the Big Lebowski.

Instead of a new rug, he gets a new job: bagman on a ransom drop for Lebowski's wife, who may or may not have been kidnapped -- which of course leads us into another circle of characters.

This recapitulation makes the movie sound more tightly plotted than it really is; even the voice-over narrator (Sam Elliot) gets confused and admits he's "lost his train of thought" trying to follow the story. Even its highly specific time-frame -- it's set during the Gulf War -- is little more than an excuse for Goodman to bristle with Bushisms about "drawing a line in the sand."

Although a lot of thought obviously went into the production, the best way to enjoy this enjoyable movie is to simply sit back -- Dude-like -- and go with the flow, man.

-- Chris Floyd