Bounty Hunter, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/21/10 18:01:48

"The Dumber Picker-Upper"
1 stars (Sucks)

In a perfect world, you would now be sitting down to read a profound and introspective contemplation of the new romantic comedy “The Bounty Hunter.” Alas, as everyone who had Kansas winning it all in their NCAA office pools, we do not live in a perfect world and as a result, I do not have a profound and introspective analysis to offer you at this time. Oh sure, I really and truly wanted to provide you with one but, for reasons that we will get into shortly, I was only able to see the first fifteen minutes or so of the film and as a result, I can’t in good conscience write anything that could possibly stand up as a full and measured review under those circumstances. What I can do--and what I have chosen to do here--is explain why I only saw the first quarter-hour of the film, analyze what I was able to experience during that brief period of time and come to the conclusion that the small chunk of film that I did was so excruciatingly awful that it was all I could to keep in my seat for that long before bolting for the exit.

You see, “The Bounty Hunter” was scheduled to unspool for the local press at a word-of-mouth screening (one of those things filled with radio station giveaway winners and the like) at 7:00 PM on the Tuesday night before its release. This in and of itself is not too unusual--movie studios love to preview comedies (especially ones that don’t appear to be very funny on the surface) for critics with “regular” people in attendance on the theory that if the normal people are laughing, it will somehow convince the critics that it is funny and inspire paroxysms of joy in their reviews--but the problem this time was that the sole press screening of “Repo Men” was going to be screening that very same night at 8:00 PM at a theater a couple of blocks away, ensuring that everyone would now have to choose between which film they were going to be able to cover. Of course, this was immediately pointed out to the publicist in charge of the “Bounty Hunter” screening but were informed that was it and there were no other screening options. Ordinarily, one could just chalk this up to being an unfortunate coincidence or a case of a studio trying to keep what they know to be a total dog away from the critical element for as long as possible. Alas, the coincidence angle kind of falls apart since both films were being handled by the same local publicity company and you would assume that there would be some kind of intricate system designed to let them know when they were inadvertently going up against each other--I think society calls them “calendars.” As for the notion of hiding it, it turns out that the whole thing about that being the only screening wasn’t entirely true either as it was screened a week earlier for an audience including Roger Ebert, Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott of “At the Movies” and apparently no one else--in other words, their version of hiding it entailed showing it to the people with the largest audience reach. Not only that, this means that a New York-based critic had an easier time of screening a movie in Chicago than nearly all the members of the actual local press corps.

Under normal circumstances, I suppose I could have just let this one slide--although I try to see and review all the major films, some do occasionally slip through the cracks. However, this is no mere movie that we are talking about--this is “The Bounty Hunter.” How could anyone not be interested in a rom-com rip-off of “Midnight Run” combining the talents of the auteur of “Hitch “ and “Fool’s Gold,” the author of “Twisted” and two stars who, based on their past cinematic excursions, couldn’t generate anything resembling chemistry if they were working together in a meth lab? I suppose I could have just caught an early screening on Friday morning, as I sometimes do with films that don’t screen at all or which I unaccountably missed, but I didn’t feel like dropping my hard-earned money on a film that was already going out of its way to ensure that I wouldn’t get a chance to see it. Therefore, working on the theory that one stupid gesture deserves another, I decided that I would go to that press screening, watch the first fifteen minutes and then depart for the “Repo Men” screening. After all, I was invited to “Repo Men” first and between the omnipresent trailer and the early exposition, I figured that I would get enough of “The Bounty Hunter” to at least offer some kind of discussion--it appeared doubtful that it would achieve the narrative complexities of the likes of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“ or “The Tooth Fairy.” Besides, there was always the outside chance that it might turn out to be good enough to convince me to forgo “Repo Men” (not necessarily the hardest thing to do) and watch the thing in its entirety before celebrating its unexpected inclusion into the classic romantic comedy canon.

If you haven’t made it to your local multiplex in the last few months--an excellent idea, for the most part--the film’s simple premise is more than adequately explained in the trailer that has been playing incessantly before virtually everything playing. Jennifer Aniston plays an intrepid journalist investigating a suspicious-looking suicide that may turn out to be something else and Gerard Butler plays a gruff and garrulous bounty hunter always on the lookout for the next big score. The first big joke is that these two used to be married and the second big joke comes when she blows off a court appearance over some traffic violation in order to track down a lead in her case and has her bail revoked and he gets the job of bringing her in. This is the point when I checked out but between the trailer and my natural intuition--not to mention the fact that I have seen more than two movies in my lifetime--it appears that he picks her up to bring her in, going so far as to lock her in his car trunk, she keeps trying to escape from his clutches and the two try to escape the various bad guys while physically and verbally lashing out at each other until they presumably decide that they love each other after all. Yes, I suppose that there is always the chance that the story deviates wildly from all of this--maybe it turns out that Aniston has the same luck with riding in car trunks that Chris Tucker did in “Jackie Brown”--but I somehow doubt it.

Although I wasn’t planning on staying longer than the aforementioned fifteen minutes, I wasn’t planning on slacking off during that time and therefore, here are some of the things that I was able to notice and observe during that time--at least once the projection problems that marred the first couple of minutes of the screening were finally corrected.

* The film kicks off with Butler tracking down and attempting to apprehend a bail jumper. Like most such scenes in most such movies, the location is a crowded public place (a New York City Independence Day parade here), the perpetrator is in a wacky costume and there is an extended chase that has the two bashing through crowds, jumping off of rooftops and setting a float on fire but it is only after Butler finally gets his man do any cops finally appear.

* We are treated to a couple of close-up shots of Jennifer Aniston’s skirt-clad hinder swinging around, presumably in attempt to convince audiences that she is supposed to still be hot stuff and a couple of close-up shots of Butler taking shots to the groin, presumably in attempt to cheer up the already dispirited audiences.

* Both Aniston and Butler have wacky work buddies who are there to presumably supply comedy relief--Jason Sudekis is her creepy colleague who still clings to the hope of a long-ago drunken Christmas party make-out session and Jeff Garlin is his boss and apparent best and only friend. I suppose you can’t really question Sudekis and Garlin for showing up and taking presumably large paychecks for doing virtually the same thing that you can see them do for free on television. On the other hand, I suppose that you could question the need for so many comedy relief part in a film that is technically supposed to be a comedy. (Aniston also gets a wacky mom, played with trademark restraint by Christine Baranski, who is introduced with a theoretically side-splitting bit in which she thinks her daughter is about to commit suicide--don’t ask--and then proceeds to remind her of all the failures in her life.)

*It is kind of strange to see Aniston in a film like this at all because this is, for all intents and purposes, the kind of film that one makes when they are at a much earlier stage in their career and not at a point when they are supposed to be an established performer. For Aniston to still be doing projects as flimsy as this--the kind that makes the likes of “Picture Perfect” seem profound by comparison--seems to suggest that she has given up on trying to convince people that she is an actress with any discernible range and is more interested in scoring easy paydays for as long as she can milk it. At the rate things are going, I suppose it is only a matter of time before we hear that she has signed on to star in a reboot of the “Leprechaun” franchise.

*It is kind of strange to see Butler in a film like this at all because, as “The Ugly Truth” more or less proved conclusively, he doesn’t have any noticeable flair for comedy and he especially doesn’t have one for romantic comedy. Even though I was exposed to it for only a few minutes, his brash New Yawker persona was having more or less the same effect as fingernails on the blackboard. Why he continues to get lead roles in big-ticket studio films is one of those mysteries that would throw even the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for a loop. The only reason I can think to put him in this movie is because he has so much in common with his co-star; both are arguably the dullest movie stars of their respective genders and both have done their best acting to date with their nipples.

* It is kind of strange to see Peter Greene, whom you will most likely remember as the infamous Zed in “Pulp Fiction,” turns up as one of the bad guys here--at least it was for me. You see, the talented Greene, who also turned in a memorably hair-raising performance in the creepy cult favorite “Clean, Shaven” has had what some would delicately refer to as a “troubled” past and since I hadn’t seen him in a film in a while that I could recall, I just kind of assumed that he was either dead or in jail somewhere. I am happy that this is not the case and I am glad to see him again, though I suspect that we are both in agreement that it is unfortunate that it couldn’t be under better circumstances.

* As far as I could tell, there were only two things in those fifteen minutes that struck me as vaguely amusing and in both cases, they were inadvertent. As the opening credits begin, we discover that one of the entities behind the project is a group called Original Films--an ironic moniker for a film that doesn’t appear to have an original bone in its body,. A few moments later, we see Aniston’s newspaper reporter character show up at her office and we discover it to be a large and bustling place filled with people hard at work to bring out the news for an eager public waiting to read their every word--a sequence that is sure to have anyone who has actually set in foot in an actual newspaper office lately laughing ruefully to themselves.

Now for all I know, it is entirely possible that “The Bounty Hunter” made a dramatic turnaround after I left, that the storyline transformed into a sparkling fusion of wit and romance not seen on a movie screen since the likes of “Bringing Up Baby” or “His Girl Friday” and that the pairing of Aniston and Butler would provide the same kind of incandescent glamour and energy as such past teamings as Hepburn and Tracy, Astaire and Rogers and Chu Chu and the Philly Flash. (Of course, the reviews from those who were “lucky” enough to see it would suggest otherwise--even Ebert hated it and he liked “Picture Perfect.”) However, the opening scenes are so awful and so unfunny that this is somewhat doubtful at best and as I said, I have no real burning desire to drag myself out and waste my time and money on the slight chance that it is better than it looks. If Sony sent me a pass to go see it, perhaps I could be induced to give it another shot but since it is extremely unlikely that any of their representatives made it past my admission of leaving after fifteen minutes, I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon. All I can say is that if you want to know more about “The Bounty Hunter” as a whole, I don’t know what to tell you except to go look up A.O. Scott--at least he got to see the damn thing.

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