John Person played by Jon Favreau (Swingers, Very bad things) is an out of work actor who finds himself 28 grand in dept after ten years trying to crack Hollywood. John's exceedingly weird neighbour Neely comes to him with an strange offer, He will receive enough money to clear all his debts if he delivers a blue suitcase to the middle of the desert and into the hands of a man known only as The Cowboy.
The big empty is the debut and at this point only film from writer and director Steve Anderson, the story and style pitch it some where between the Coens and Lynch, but its lighter than both. For a leftfield first time effort the film has a fairly strong cast that includes along with Jon Favreau, Daryl Hannah (Kill Bill, Splash), Kelsey Grammer (Cheers, X-men 3), Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy, Big Daddy) and Sean Bean (The lord of the rings, Equilibrium).
The tale is a simple one that flutters easily between comic and weird, with some nice touches here and there. After accepting the suitcase from Neely, John leaves instructions for his attractive neighbour Grace played by the sexily baby doll voiced Joey Lauren Adams to look after his place while he's gone. John then travels to a small town called Baker which is little more than a truck stop on the way to Vegas as you travel through the desert. On reaching Baker John waits for The Cowboy to turn up and take the blue suitcase off his hands so he can get payed and then get the hell out. In classic movie style the small community of locals are the wrong side of normal leading to various odd encounters for John. The first of which is with the overfriendly and seemingly sexually stared motel clerk Elron, who talks with John about Prostitutes and aliens. John soon finds himself in the local and only bar, where he runs into the M.I.L.F and Lolita combo of mother Stella (Daryl Hannah) looking very sexy as a brunette and daughter Ruthie played by Rachael Leigh Cook (She's All That, Josie and the Pussycats). John kills time at the bar with Stella and drinking in the desert with Ruthie, the latter act enraging Ruthies estranged homicidal hick boyfriend Randy who becomes intend on burying John in the desert. Meanwhile Grace calls from back home to tell John Neely has been murdered and FBI Agent Banks (A fun turn from Kelsey Grammer), is on his trail. Which all leaves John to wonder what's in the blue suitcase he has been instructed to deliver but under no circumstances open, who exactly is the cowboy and what’s behind all the tales the locals tell of an Alien airport out in the middle of the Desert?
The big empty is one of those films that relies on character actors and performances, more than visuals and a plot. Anderson writes some great dialogue and all the characters are odd without being to in your face weird or overly comic, the humour is subtle for the most part. The storyline is almost like a light version of The twilight zone or the X files, a weird mystery which never gets to dark. If there is a problem with the movie it would be the fact that maybe Anderson has tried to over reach for a first time director with a limited budget the story is cool, but not really as clever or a deep and meanfull as he thinks. I assume Anderson is trying to use his quirky tale as an allegory about life, but the plot is just not strong enough to back this up and certainly not as original as its trying so hard to be. That all said it's still a very entertaining watch and if you like I enjoy a film in which an outsider interacts with odd locals then it's one you should check out. There are things left unexplained which will irritate some viewers, but others will be happy to interpret things in their own way, after all does it really matter what’s in the suitcase or if there really are any aliens? The whole thing is accompanied by a fitting country rock and blues score and the desert is always a great backdrop for a spot of weird.
If you like Garden State, Twin Peaks, The Big Lebowski, Milwaukee Minnesota and quirky character driven films of that type you should find this a pretty enjoyable experience.
Cowboys, Aliens, M.I.L.F's, Lolita's and weird locals make this a cool slice of quirky fun which seems to have been overlooked, but its well worth searching out.