‘Big Fish’ is powerfully bizarre

By Gus Bode

Starring:Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup

Rated:PG-13 (for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference)

3 1/2 Gus Heads

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Here’s a whopper for you:An eccentric director makes a bumbling film about some damn dirty apes and then blips off the radar for a few years. A talented actor gets lost in some driveling “Star Wars” movies and makes everyone forget how fun he is to watch.

The two get together and make one movie, and the result is amazing.

That’s the honest-to-God truth.

And if anything about “Big Fish,” which unites Tim Burton and Ewan McGregor into one crazy madhouse of a fun movie, seemed like a lie to you, go ahead and take the bait; movies like this are rare. Of course, it would be easy to plod on about how this story about a man known for his peculiar tall tales has a cheesy flashback gimmick and gushes a bit too much at the end, but that’s all trivial.

What Tim Burton has made is his most impressive piece of entertainment in years – a happy-go-lucky tale that looks big and feels even bigger, a whimsical little journey that strikes at you in ways you would not expect. Working with a broad cast that’s led by the charismatic McGregor, Burton turns “Big Fish” into a menagerie of bizarre settings and odd characters that never get boring and, in fact, always stay exciting.

“Big Fish,” based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, is all about Edward Bloom (played by McGregor in flashback and Albert Finney in the present), a dreamer from Alabama whose life becomes a canvas for tall tales about a witch (Helena Bonham Carter), days in the circus, a poet/bank robber (Steve Buscemi) and, of course, catching rather big fish. This is all fine and dandy for most, as Bloom goes into his stories over and over again, but it gets to be a bit much for Bloom’s son (Billy Crudup), who is sick of what he presumes to be lies and wants to know who his father really is.

And so we, the audience, are left to travel through Bloom’s life as related by him and those who have known him well, and we see his adventures put on screen in just the same, wild-eyed, visually fantastic way that Bloom would have us see them. There’s a circus, led by Danny Devito, where Bloom works just so he can meet his wife (played by Alison Lohman in the flashback, who bears an almost supernatural resemblance to her counterpart, Jessica Lange). Then he’s off to buy a town, or catch a fish or go on the road as a salesman. Whatever he does, he does with an effusive flair, and it’s impossible not to get a little giddy just watching it all.

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But this, of course, is where “Big Fish” pulls its big trick. None of this could be real, as Crudup would have us believe. It could all just be a jumble of lies piled up by a man who likes the sound of his own voice. But that’s where the heart of the movie lies, and the journey that Bloom and his son make in the film’s final minutes is as precious as anything you’re apt to find in movies right now.

All in all, “Big Fish” is big entertainment in a big way. Coming off as almost a hybrid between “O Brother, Where Art Thou” and “Forrest Gump,” it’s a film with a lot of heart that is almost childlike in its enthusiasm and certainly artful in its execution. In a movie season exploding with Oscar bait, this is one so small that it almost certainly won’t be caught. That’s a shame. Movies like this are few and far between, and that, it should be said, is no lie at all.

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