A film review by Craig J. Koban March 31, 2010

THE BOUNTY HUNTER j
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2010, PG-13, 115 mins.

 

Nicole: Jennifer Aniston / Milo: Gerard Butler / Stewart: Jason Sudeikis / Kitty Hurley: Christine Baranski

Directed by Andy Tennant / Written by Sarah Thorp.

THE BOUNTY HUNTER is a real Swiss Army Knife movie: it’s part road comedy, part romantic dramedy, part action film, and part murder mystery thriller.  It is largely because of its schizophrenic nature that it does not succeed on all of its intended levels.   

On one level, the film exists primarily to highlight its two attractive and appealing lead actors: Jennifer Aniston - a good actress when allowed to display it – has always been able to mix sweetness and sex appeal with her many congenial characters, and Gerard Butler – also a good actor when allowed to display it – has a oddball, grizzled, Caveman-esque charm that can effectively harness his inner man-child in many recent films.  The two actors together on screen have a nice, easygoing chemistry and charm and, throughout the film, they are always easy to invest in and like.  On the basic level of every romcom (i.e. - have two eminently appealing leads that you want to root on to romantic happiness in the end) THE BOUNTY HUNTER easily appeases. 

I enjoyed the sexual and comic tension between Aniston and Butler here, but the rest of the film around the pair is an exhausted menagerie of stale and rudimentary action comedy clichés and conventions typified by generic dialogue and an underlining murder-mystery plot that is, at best, murky and confusing.  The film has an almost encyclopedic reverence to the types of conventions that amplified actions films of 20 years ago: we have greedy loan sharks, vile gangsters, bumbling henchmen, crooked cops, multiple chase scenes, vintage cars that will never remain vintage throughout the film, and, yes, a couple of misfits that despise each other at the beginning of the film only to develop a newfound mutual fondness as the film rolls to its end credits.  THE BOUNTY HUNTER is essentially MIDNIGHT RUN, but with a man and a woman that just happen to be former souses.  What this films lacks that the classic 1988 Martin Brest film had is genuine laughs, an involving story, and pacing that does more than barely register a pulse. 

In the film Jennifer Aniston plays Nicole, a New York Daily News reporter that is hot on the trail of a story that festers with police corruption.  She recently has come over some new evidence from a snitch that points towards a police report of a recent death that was incorrectly labeled as a suicide.  Near the beginning of the film she is about to appear in court over an apparent physical altercation that she had with a...um…“member” of the police service, but just as she’s about to enter the court room she receives a phone call that just may be the big tip she has been looking for to complete her story.  She quickly absconds from her court appearance, and the furious judge puts out a warrant for her arrest. 

This is where Gerard Butler’s Milo comes in: he is a disgraced former cop that when he is not spending days freelancing as a bounty hunter he is pissing his life away with booze and an addictive gambling habit.  His life is not made any easier by the fact that a horde of gangsters is after him over a botched gambling debt that he has failed to pay off.  However, Milo gets the news of his life when he learns of the $5000 bounty reward that is placed on Nicole’s head, which makes him as giddy as a schoolgirl.  Why?  Because Nicole is actually Milo’s estranged ex-wife and what man after a particularly nasty and bitter divorce would not want to hunt do his ex, capture her, stuff her in a trunk, and haul her off to the police? 

What follows then is the stuff of standard, run-of-the-mill road comedies: we see Nicole's frequent attempts to escape from Milo’s clutches, only to have her them thwarted.  Then we have the obligatory over-night stays in hotels, which complicates things immensely (it’s one thing for Milo to keep an eye on his bounty, but when the bounty is a hot woman that you were once intimate with, it makes sleeping arrangements more problematic).  The more amusing aspect of the film is the way Milo and Nicole use their respective knowledge of their own worst habits against them.  There is a funny scene when Nicole begins to cry while locked away in Milo’s car trunk, to which Milo rightfully deduces is a shame: married men know instinctively when their wives’ tears are fake or not. 

Mixed in with all the wacky shenanigans of Milo’s attempts to take Nicole in is a subplot involving Nicole's attempts to uncover the truth behind the fake suicide police report, not to mention Milo’s multiple attempts to escape capture by his bookie’s goons, not to mention yet another subplot involving a really vile cop (played with effortless villainy by the always sleazy Peter Green).  The real central dilemma of THE BOUNTY HUNTER is that it never generates any serious forward momentum with any of these side stories: the police corruption scandal is never clearly delineated within the rest of the narrative, the main villains are terribly underdeveloped as antagonists, and the whole film – at nearly 2 hours, is about 20-30 minutes too long for its own good.  Ultimately, the film is always engaging when Butler and Aniston alone share the screen together, but when their story takes lackluster detours the film seems to grind to a halt. 

The film’s action set pieces also lack an authoritative punch.  The many chase sequences (especially one of the weirdest of all-time that involves a golf course, a golf cart, and a remixed version of the B-Gee’s “Staying Alive” trumpeting on the soundtrack) never generate any tangible sense of suspense or danger, and some of the gunplay and shootouts never feel appropriately pulse pounding.  Again, if the film honed in on its key strengths (the interplay between Aniston and Butler) and less so on generic action, then THE BOUNTY HUNTER could have been a more agreeably breezy delight.  Unfortunately, the overall film tends to marginalize the talent on board.   Then again, the film does have some supporting comedic performances by proven funnymen that are terminally unfunny, like one by SNL’s always hysterical Jason Sedakis as one of Nicole’s co-workers that essentially stalks her (that is supposed to be funny?).  However, one supporting performance of note is provided by Christine Baranski as Nicole’s Joan Rivers-esque, Atlantic City-entertaining mother that only occupies a few minutes of screen time, but she crushes those minutes with some hearty laughs.  She is also perhaps the only movie mother ever to give her daughter these words of advice: “Get naked and get busy!” 

One other thing worth mentioning here: Gerard Butler’s recent career trajectory.  How utterly awesome was he as the six-packed adorned, fire and brimstone philosophizing, and sword slashing Spartan warrior in 300?  You would think from there that he would have a field day as the next big action star, but lately he has mostly surfaced in comedic films (even though his role in ROCKNROLLA was rugged, it was ultimately played up to his goofball charm).   I like Butler a lot, but he seems destined to wander in the cinematic wasteland of the forgettable romcom.  His X-rated pontificating masochist in last year’s resoundingly horrible THE UGLY TRUTH was one of the only redeeming qualities of that film.  Nonetheless, Butler’s underrated talent largely supersedes these films: I think that he’s a better performer than what that film and THE BOUNTY HUNTER have to offer. 

One last issue: Have you noticed that this is the second romcom in a row starring Butler where his chauvinistic hooligan character takes a strongly secure, independent, and attractive career woman and teaches her how to love the “right man,” meaning himself?  In THE UGLY TRUTH Butler showed the limitlessly gorgeous Katherine Heigl how to find a man, only to allow her, in the process, to discover him as her soul mate.  In THE BOUNTY HUNTER much of the same is done to Aniston’s Nicole.  Baranski’s mother character, at one point, tells Milo that Nicole may be a “strong, independent woman on the outside, but inside she’s just a girl that wants to be loved by her man.”  Ouch.  Films like THE UGLY TRUTH, THE BOUNTY HUNTER and countless others as of late have taken female characters and lamentably devolved them back about 30 years.  Modern female viewers certainly deserve better, as do the characters they vicariously live through on the silver screen. 

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