Saturday, March 20, 2010

"The Bounty Hunter" (2010)

"The Bounty Hunter" (2010)
Starring Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston
Written by Sarah Thorpe
Directed by Andy Tennant

Let's start off with this right now: Pitchers of beer didn't make 'The Bounty Hunter' a better movie.  This romantic comedy stars Gerard Butler ("300") and Jennifer Aniston ("Friends")... and that's about it.  There's a story here, but none of the characters really pay any attention to it.  There are other characters, but we never really learn anything about them. 

Instead, what we get is basically two hours of Butler and Aniston squabbling.  It's supposed to be funny, and then it's supposed to be sweet, but really what it is is just... there.  The setup has potential for action comedy gold, in the style of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" from a few years back, which starred Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (and famously broke up the marriage of Pitt and Aniston). 

Here we have Butler as Milo Boyd, ex-cop and now bounty hunter - he hunts down bail jumpers for a living and then goes drinking with his cop friend Bobby.  Aniston plays his ex-wife, reporter Nicole Hurley, who was arrested for assaulting a police officer (a charge, which, when you finally learn the whole story is one of the few genuinely humorous parts of the movie).  Hurley gets a tip on a story she's working that could be huge, and misses her court date.  Milo is hired to bring her in, a target which would net him a sweet $5,000 - which he needs since he's $11,000 in the hole to an Atlantic City loan shark named Irene.

Of course, since their divorce was so bitter, Milo thinks this is the greatest thing that's ever happened to him, and he takes off to track down Nicole and bring her to jail and collect his $5G.  Nicole, meanwhile, is tracking down a snitch who's been kidnapped after finding out a little bit too much about evidence that's gone missing from a police lockup.  Once Milo finds her, it turns out that they're in the sights of just about everyone: Cops, Irene's debt collectors, drug dealers... It's a worthy setup for an action comedy, as I've said.

The problem is that... nothing really happens.  Milo and Nicole spend a good amount of time bickering in the car, bickering at a casino, bickering in their hotel room.  They have only two encounters with the drug dealer, only one encounter with the loan sharks, in the entire movie.  All Milo has to do to collect his cash is drive Nicole from Atlantic City back to New York City.  Somehow, this ends up taking them an entire weekend because they keep stopping at casinos, hotels and bed and breakfasts. 

This utter lack of plot momentum could be dealt with if the jokes were funny, but most often, they're simply not.  "The Bounty Hunter" commits that annoying sin of telling and not showing, and has the characters simply declare things and tell stories to each other.  Earlier, I mentioned Nicole's arrest for assaulting an officer.  This scene was chuckle-worthy, but it would have been hilarious if actually shown.  One of Aniston's talents is her ability to react to things, and a simple, maybe 10-second flashback here could have been the highlight of the movie.  Instead, the script calls for her to simply explain it to Butler while they sit in his car just before the film's climax.

The rest of the film is filled with inoffensive slapstick.  At one point, Milo and Nicole end up at the bed and breakfast where they spent their honeymoon.  This could easily have been a biting, satirical sequence but the script won't take any chances with anything, so it's just another in a long list of missed opportunities in this movie.

Alright, so I've been pretty hard on "The Bounty Hunter" so far, but let me say that there are some bright points.  Butler and Aniston have chemistry together.  Butler, especially, seems to be having a lot of fun in his role.  I just wish we were having that much fun watching it.  In the end, it's these two that make "The Bounty Hunter" watchable at all.  They're both lively presences on the screen that attract attention, it's just too bad that they weren't given better material to make it more fulfilling.