As his recent, piggish ad-libbing on the Golden Globe Awards made painfully clear, Tom Arnold is not someone you want to let out of the house without adult supervision. Still, as an actor he is not without his charms. He’s perpetually large and loud, true, but given the right counterweight, Arnold can stretch from amusingly boorish to surprisingly, appealingly, bighearted. Arnold Schwarzenegger, remember, brought out the best in his fellow gym junkie in True Lies; the fluty Englishness of Hugh Grant, on the other hand, left him with nothing to do but bray in Nine Months.
In Big Bully, Arnold is paired with Rick Moranis, the nebbishy star of all movies involving antic children. And it’s easy to see the thinking that went into the matchmaking. Moranis is a little, rubbery Roger Rabbit, but he’s got the energy and presence of a larger noodge — he can take a licking and keep on ticking. They’re as good a couple of doofuses as any to play out the story of David (Moranis), a runty weenie, and ”Fang” (Arnold), the fat kid who picked on him, both of them now grown up and working, after decades apart, as teachers in the same quaint grade school out of Mayberry in which they first formed their hunter-and-prey bond. Now, too, they have sons of their own who, in a stir of the gene soup, present the reverse personalities of their old men. How the two adults resolve their differences (and how the kids provide an example for their elders) is the moral of the story. The rest is all pranks, chases, and riffs out of TV’s The Wonder Years, complete with voice-over narration.
Whether this appeals to you at all — Moranis doing his thing as an adult dork, Arnold calling everyone ”buddy” too heartily — is entirely a matter of taste; some people also can’t get enough Chris Farley, for reasons beyond my poor comprehension. But within its genre (i.e., corny dum-dum comedies ostensibly appealing to young boys but actually appealing to their 35-year-old movie-exec dads nostalgic for their childhoods), Big Bully, directed by Steve Miner and written by Mark Steven Johnson, is not a big stinker. There are a few satisfyingly funny lines of dialogue, and there are two sly throwaway appearances by Don Knotts and Jeffrey Tambor as, respectively, the school principal and the next-door neighbor. The kids will shrug; the adults will recognize Barney Fife straight out of The Andy Griffith Show and Hank Kingsley from The Larry Sanders Show for the boomer-era cultural beacons they are.