In Steven Soderbergh's "Out of Sight," George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez memorably created romantic sparks while huddled in the trunk of a car. By contrast, the action-laden romantic-comedy "TheBounty Hunter" begins with Jennifer Aniston bursting out a trunk in a smokey blaze of ignited flares as Gerard Butler chases after her.
As incubators of chemistry, the trunk of "Out of Sight" has the stuff, while "The Bounty Hunter" is up in smoke.
The premise of "The Bounty Hunter" is as much an absurd gimmick as it is an effective hook.
Butler, the buff, smirking Scottish star of "300" and "The Ugly Truth," plays Milo Boyd, a former cop turnedbounty hunter who gets the job of his life: the opportunity to drag his ex-wife (Aniston) to jail.
As Nicole Hurley, Aniston, somewhat incredibly, is a hard-nosed crime reporter for the New York Daily News (its offices make a cameo). While tenaciously pursuing a lead on a suspicious murder on the Lower East Side, Hurley misses a court appearance for a car accident, and the judge issues a warrant for her arrest.
But neither actor is playing a character as much as they're playing movie stars. At no point in "TheBounty Hunter" are you anything but fully aware that you're watching Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler — and perhaps that's the idea.
For better and worse, "The Bounty Hunter" is an opportunity to sit in the dark with these two likable, attractive stars, rather than piece together distorted glimpses of them in the tabloids.
Here is Aniston smartly dressed in tight skirts and heels, composed and discombobulated at once; and Butler: brash, unshaven, a little sweaty and at one moment — to the glee of half the audience — shirtless.
Exactly why Milo and Nicole split after a relatively brief marriage is never specified (she was too career-focused, he says; he wasn't understanding, she says), but they certainly can't stand each other anymore. Thrown back together, they gradually rehash the past as they travel from Atlantic City back to New York, their course repeatedly thrown off by various attackers.
A number of supporting characters are summoned for comic flashes: Jason Sudeikis (as a fellow News reporter in love with Nicole), Jeff Garlin (as Milo's boss), Christine Baranski (as Nicole's mother) and Jayne Houdyshell (as a landlady), among them.
Director Andy Tennant ("Hitch," ''Fool's Gold") overstuffs the film with constant overlaid music, impatient cutting and a generally unsettled approach. The film, from Sarah Thorp's unimaginative screenplay, works best when the circus pauses.
But this is a film for its stars. As Butler adds romantic comedies to his action film base, he can be a fresh bit of rugged energy. He remains exceptionally watchable, a quality Aniston shares. But her movie career, launched in earnest after "Friends," continues to pile up forgettable romantic comedies that fall short of her talent.
Divorce has often been excellent fodder for comedies (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in the superb "The Awful Truth" is the gold standard), but "The Bounty Hunter" has little to offer besides some face-time with handsome stars.
"The Bounty Hunter," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content including suggestive comments, language and some violence. Running time: 110 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
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