Reviewed by Ken Fox

What a strange reversal of fortune: Two years after Joel and Ethan Coen delivered FARGO, the film that will probably stand as the filmmakers' finest moment, comes the long-awaited follow-up, and it's without question their worst. This time out, the Coens turn their

jaundiced eyes to L.A. -- not the Hollywood they so recklessly skewered in BARTON FINK, but La-La Land as a state of mind. The plot, in a nutshell: Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid) is missing, and Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), a burnt-out '70s leftover who has the bad luck to share the same

first and last name as Mrs. Lebowski's millionaire husband, is in a heap of trouble. After a pair of thugs treat The Dude to a rather vicious swirlie, then pee on his carpet, wheelchair-bound Jeff "The Big" Lebowski (David Huddleston) -- the intended target of the assault -- offers the Dude a tidy

sum of money to help get his wife back. Mixed up in all this is Maude (Julianne Moore), the Big Lebowski's wayward daughter (she's a "feminist artist" -- honest); Walter (John Goodman), The Dude's paranoid Vietnam vet bowling partner, and a host of quirky cameos from the likes of John Turturro,

David Thewlis and Ben Gazzara. If any of this sounds at all like THE BIG SLEEP, then you've gotten the one -- and only -- joke. Repopulating Raymond Chandler's L.A. with a cast of latter-day freaks, floozies and failures has been done before -- brilliantly, in fact, by Robert Altman. But where

Chandler's tales of the City of Angels were convoluted to great effect, the Coens' vision of L.A.'s kooky underbelly is simply convoluted, and desperately so. Reworking the old "down these mean streets" formula, they've only replaced noir cliches with even thinner -- and often blithely offensive

-- cliches of their own. The only real moments of inspiration come during The Dude's periodic bouts of unconsciousness, during which he dreams elaborate Busby Berkeley-styled dance numbers. But if it's all supposed to be in fun, why does it feel so much like an insult?