Formula for disaster

The Bounty Hunter

on March 19, 2010 by Mark Keizer
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If Midnight Run and His Girl Friday had an unwanted, mutant baby, it would be The Bounty Hunter, a romantic comedy where the jokes sputter and die immediately after exiting the character’s mouths. Gerard Butler is the title fugitive finder, whose latest prey is his bail-jumping ex-wife, played by Jennifer Aniston. The two leads generate the kind of chemistry that results when two attractive stars are paid a lot of money to pretend they have chemistry. And Sarah Thorp’s script is labored, witless and too convoluted for its own limited purposes. Even by the low standards of today’s romantic comedy, this is a black mark on everyone’s resume. Look for a decent opening weekend driven purely by Sony’s marketing might. After that, word of mouth should kill it.

Jennifer Aniston is very pretty and very rich and, of most interest to the public, very single. And you start to wonder whether her post-40 career choices are reflecting her inability to settle down and have the children that US Magazine readers desperately wish for her. Even the title He’s Just Not That Into You brings back memories of her marriage to Brad Pitt. And when attached to Aniston, its follow-up, Love Happens, sounds like science fiction. It’s even tempting to read meaning into her upcoming romcom, the sperm donor comedy The Switch (previously titled The Baster). So are there subconscious thoughts at play when, in The Bounty Hunter, she needs to be handcuffed to a bed and repeatedly shot at before accepting that last first kiss? And if so, must we endure today’s high ticket prices to watch her work those issues out? Dime store psychoanalysis aside, there’s a lot of bad choices in the careers of both these stars. Butler has now strung together two consecutive romantic comedy duds, as if trying to recalibrate his personae after bursting onto the scene, abs first, in Zack Snyder’s homoerotic epic 300. As ex-cop turned bounty hunter Milo Boyd, he tries to affect a casual air, but really looks one step away from clocking everyone with a muscled Scottish forearm. He doesn’t sweep girls off their feet: he picks up them up and throws them into the trunk of his car. So he doesn’t match well with Aniston, the neo-Mary Tyler Moore, strong yet girlie, her hair coiled and shiny, her dress short and tight. She plays Nicole, a Daily News reporter on the trail of a suspicious suicide. When a snitch promises juicy info on the case, she skips a court appearance and the judge orders her brought in. Milo takes the assignment for a $5,000 payday, tracks her down to Atlantic City and then attempts to drive her back to New York.

Movies like this should get in and out in 90 minutes. But here we’ve got 111 laugh-free minutes to kill, meaning lots of story to tell and eccentric supporting roles to service. But the character interaction, the story trajectory, the subplots and the chase scenes—none of them carry any weight. Stuff happens but is forgotten by the next edit. Nothing sticks. Director Andy Tennant (Hitch) does assemble some talented stock players, but they all drop from the sky, exit just as quickly and never feel part of the show. As Nicole’s hapless co-worker, Stewart (SNL’s Jason Sudeikis) disappears for such a long stretch that his final appearance smacks of Tennant realizing, “we forgot about Stewart. Grab a camera and shoot something.” Christine Baranski has always been Upper East Side unctuous, (minus the irony) and here she tries too hard to make the most of limited screen time as Nicole’s mother.

But really we’re here to see two exes hate each other until they realize they love each other. Adhering to screenwriting guru Syd Field’s insistence on 10-20 plot points per script, Thorp arranges pit stops for Milo and Nicole in Atlantic City, a honeymoon B&B and a country club. They use their familiarity with each other to get their digs in and rehash their relationship. As they speed along in his beat-up Delta 88, there’s much conversation about their brief marriage, but we’re never privy to what drove them apart. So we’re always outsiders to whatever issues Milo and Nicole need to resolve before reuniting. And yet their robotic bickering is still more interesting than Nicole’s investigation, which widens into possible police corruption and limps across the finish line with a lame gunfight.

Butler and Aniston may be the biggest names involved in this sorry and wilted exercise, but the name that reveals the true motivation for its existence is Relativity Media topper Ryan Kavanaugh. According to Esquire Magazine, Relativity decides whether to finance a movie by entering hundreds of variables into an enormous spreadsheet. So Kavanaugh and his team evaluated the stars, director, release date, budget, rating, genre, etc. of The Bounty Hunter and decided it was an acceptable financial risk (whither gut players like Robert Evans and John Calley). So basically, they used a dispassionate formula to finance a formula movie bogged down by way too much formula. It seems inspiration isn’t one of the variables on Relativity’s magic spreadsheet.

Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Cast: Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler
Director: Andy Tennant
Screenwriter: Sarah Thorp
Producer: Neal H. Moritz
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including suggestive comments, language and some violence.
Running time: 111 min.
Release date: March 19, 2010

Tags: Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Neal H. Moritz, Andy Tennant, romantic comedy, Jason Sudeikis, Christine Baranski, mercenary, conspiracy
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