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The Bounty Hunter (2010)

When a woman runs out of a trunk and is chased down by a man who then tackles her and drags her back to said trunk, how would you react? Horror, right? This scenario is the opening minute of The Bounty Hunter, an abhorrent romantic comedy that fails in every regard. The opening scene is supposed to be funny because it’s two stars and we learn, via onscreen text, that the guy and gal are formerly married. Somehow this knowledge makes the scene… funny? Because in real life no spurned ex-spouses inflict punishment on their former halves. This disastrous and bizarre opening clued me in that The Bounty Hunter was going to be one hell of a slog to sit through. It made me want to put a bounty on the filmmakers who made this mess possible.

Milo (Gerard Butler) is an ex-cop who currently pays the bills as a bounty hunter. Nicole (Jennifer Aniston) is an investigative reporter looking into a series of suicides that might not be what they seem. She’s also due in court for hitting a police horse with her car (the reveal of her actual crime is intended to be a payoff; you?re welcome for having it spoiled). Nicole gets too close to a crime conspiracy that has connections inside the New York City police force, so goons chase her down to kill her. Naturally, she misses her court date and becomes a wanted fugitive, which brings her ex back into the picture. Milo is elated that he gets to drag his ex-wife to jail and get paid for doing so. Along the way, the couple improbably rekindles their old romance while being chased by hordes of goons with guns.

First off, The Bounty Hunter is one of the more unpleasant, tone-deaf comedies I’ve seen in years. It assumes if two people, with obviously zero chemistry, will bicker long enough in shrill voices, eventually comedy will emerge. This is the comedic equivalent of the faulty scientific theory of Spontaneous Generation. The comedy just isn’t coming. I never laughed once during the entire painful 115 minutes. I failed to crack even a smile. I sat dumbfounded, looking back and forth between the screen and my wife’s reaction, to gauge if I was truly missing something, mainly the “comedy” part. These people are unlikable and not once do you ever believe that they are capable of even expressing a realistic human emotion. These are people that shouldn’t even exist in a crummy romantic comedy. These are the background players in a crummy romantic comedy, given starring roles and proving with every exhalation why they should have remained Angry Dinner Couple #2. Milo is a jackass who’s full of himself and Nicole is whiny and annoying and they both have massive egos. Butler and Aniston have various acting abilities, though both seem to be in rapid decline, but their hammy acting is trying to overcompensate for the film’s numerous shortcomings. They’re playing broadly, but now they’re just broad, unlikable idiots rather than unlikable idiots. The only way anybody could like these characters is imagining that they’re completely different people.

The premise itself routinely destroys any plausible sense of believability. Milo chases down his ex-wife in scene after scene, taunting her, spitefully laughing at her misfortune, harassing and threatening her. At NO POINT WHATSOEVER in the entire movie does a single person look at this ongoing relationship and cry foul. Nobody calls the police, nobody intervenes, nobody notices what explicitly looks like a woman being stalked and kidnapped by a creep. At no point does Milo flash a badge to at least provide some context or explain his actions, so scene after scene looks like a blatant kidnapping with the female captive kicking and screaming. There is nothing wacky or amusing in watching a world of apathetic rom-com extras ignoring what is obviously somebody in trouble. The fact that Milo can get away with this behavior in a gala of public venues only makes the movie, and every living being within it, infinitely dumber.

The very nature of the comedy oddly results in plenty of cruel slapstick. Nicole has an officemate, Stewart (Jason Sudeikis), who is smitten with her after a drunken bout of making out. He follows her to Atlantic City and eventually gets hijacked by the goons after Milo. There are several astonishing scenes that just involve the goons torturing Stewart. They hit him in the leg with a golf club, they inject a horse tranquilizer into his neck, and all of this is somehow supposed to be funny. It’s really just mean and rather distasteful. The fact that The Bounty Hunter thinks that this situation is a comedy goldmine speaks volumes to me. Watching a dweeby character repeatedly get injured is not funny on its face, and it’s even less funny when the film just lets it keep happening without comment. Stewart doesn’t deserve his pain and neither does the unfortunate audience watching this garbage.

Director Andy Tennant (Hitch, Fool’s Gold) and screenwriter Sarah Thorp (Twisted) wouldn’t know comedy if it chained them to a car door. Tennant’s idea of comedy is to stretch the comedy, play things as big and as long as possible. There are plenty of moments that have a rather slipshod comedic setup (oh look, they’re chasing a guy on a golf course in a golf cart! This has to end well right?), and then the movie just keeps going and going, long after what was designed to be funny crashed, burned, and had its ashes scattered at sea. His visual style also leans on bright pastel colors that heighten the cartoonish atmosphere. The comic set-ups are along the lines of? Milo chains Nicole to bed. She crawls over him to reach for gun. Sexual dialogue about a “gun.” Milo chases a guy on stilts. Stilts! How could you resist that? And then at one point Nicole tries to make a break for it in a rickshaw. I’m already not laughing. And then the movie wants to be an action caper and lo does it fail miserably at this as well. Nicole is being chased by a bevy of goons because she knows too much. Milo is also being chased by his own bevy of goons that want to collect on his gambling debts. Then there’s a mutual friend/cop who may be dirty or might not be, but it’s just way too many extraneous characters chasing after the likes of Milo and Nicole.

Thorp lacks an ear for dialogue. She seems to have some basic grasp on the ingredients of funny, but she can’t make them come together and work. Every line alternates between being clumsy, obvious, or clumsily obvious. We’re supposed to be amused by Milo and Nicole’s banter. It’s grating, like you’re stuck in someone else’s miserable family vacation. There’s a moment in the end where Milo has distracted the bad guys and come to save his ex-wife, and then instead of bolting they sit and glumly talk about the failed state of their relationship. Could that not have waited until you were safe? The tone is decidedly uneven and the second half of the film feels like an eternity. The comedy completely gets smothered in the last half because now the movie wants to be taken seriously and we’re supposed to care about the characters getting back together, as if their reconciliation was ever in doubt. Thorp’s screenplay feels like a pastiche of 1000 different movies. There isn’t an original thought anywhere inside this movie. Even worse, there isn’t anything funny. This is the kind of movie that you say, “Well, it had its moments,” except The Bounty Hunter doesn’t even have those “moments.”

The Bounty Hunter is a colossal miscalculation on the part of everyone involved. It is neither funny nor romantic in any sense, it’s weirdly cruel and very casual about it, and the entire movie exists in some contrived, sketchy realm of reality that only exists in the furthest reaches of the rom-com universe. I find it funny (much funnier than anything in this movie) that Butler and Aniston were rumored to be dating after filming this movie. They have no screen chemistry whatsoever, though they can argue in annoying tones effectively. As the film neared its merciful end, I thought about calling somebody to round up those responsible for such an egregious waste of time and money. It’s not just that The Bounty Hunter is a bad movie; it’s a woefully clumsy and excruciating movie even considering the depths of romantic comedies. And if anybody sat through The Ugly Truth, or Over Her Dead Body, or anything with Freddie Prinze Jr. in it, then you know exactly how alarming that statement is.

Nate’s Grade: D

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Hitch (2005)

Isn’t it peculiar that most romantic comedies are written or directed by men? Sure you’ll have your occasional Nora Ephron or Nancy Myers, but it seems that the vast majority of people behind these popular, simplistic, romantic fantasies are men. Is it all a conspiracy? Is Hollywood keeping a nation of women docile with a slew of movies aimed at their soft, gooey middles (no, not the love handles)? We may never know. Hitch is written and directed by men too. Will it be any different from other rom-coms?

Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) is New York City’s most popular love guru. He’s got the methods and the advice to turn any zero to a hero in the dating world. His latest client is Albert (Kevin James), a mild-mannered attorney lacking the confidence to ask the beautiful Allegra (super model Amber Valletta) on a date. Hitch agrees to assist Albert in learning the fine art of impressing women, behavioral signs, and the proper steps to insure a fantastic first kiss (Hitch believes 80% of women can tell all they want from that first kiss). Meanwhile, Hitch is also trying to woo Sara (Eva Mendes), a prickly gossip columnist distrustful of most men, especially the ones that show interest in her. Hitch persists and sets up elaborate dates that seem to misfire one after the other. His sure-fire rules and methods aren’t working on Sara, so Hitch will have to dig deep to discover the true meaning of love.

Will Smith the actor was put on Earth to do two things, save the world and woo the ladies. Hitch focuses more on the later. Smith oozes charisma and is a natural charmer. He’s all but tailor-maid for the romantic comedy genre as an affable, sly, and lovable lead. He’s an actor that can truly connect with an audience, for better or worse.

James (TV’s The King of Queens) gives the film its biggest laughs and its best moments of heart. His geek chic dance sequence (involving Q-tip wiping, spinning a pizza, and hiney shaking) is a gut-buster, and James plays it with bravado. He’s the doughy everyman and his courtship of Allegra provides some tender moments, like that first awkward kiss. James doesn’t overplay the nervous tics or the low self-esteem but lets Albert feel like a real schmo coming alive.

The lone sour note in this well-cast fable comes from Eva Mendes. I’ve never been impressed with Mendes as an actress so far. What almost kills Hitch is that Mendes is stuck playing a wholly unlikable character. Sara is whiny, mean-spirited, and short-sighted in her actions. When she tries to get revenge against Hitch she ends up rashly destroying innocent lives. She’s supposed to be guarded, the one nut Hitch can’t crack with his dating axioms, but instead she comes off as a rather terrible human being. After a while I started rooting for Hitch to lose because he’d be far happier without being saddled to this insufferable, egotistical, close-minded, bitter human being.

What saves Hitch is that the film wisely decides to put more time and energy on Albert dating Allegra. Albert serves as the underdog, the rooting point for the audience, and he’s true to what he believes. This is quite a contrast to a gossip columnist unafraid to rip people on unsubstantiated assumptions.

Another element that can make a romantic comedy sink or swim is the chemistry of its stars. Here Hitch presents an intriguing dilemma. You see, Mendes and Smith have no connection whatsoever, which is fine because Hitch is just as much a buddy film as it is a rom-com. Smith and James have terrific chemistry and play off of each other with an excellent comedic give and take. This is where Hitch separates itself from the usual rom-com fluff. It’s a tale of three couples, Albert and Allegra, Hitch and Sara, and Albert and Hitch. The film’s about male relationships as much as male-female relations (and the pursuit of male-female relations), and there are hints of truth behind the comic desperation. There is something romantic to Hitch but it cannot be found whenever Mendes steps onscreen.

Hitch has appeal but it can’t help but get caught in the clich├ęs of romantic comedies. As always, misunderstandings loom and push people away when one good level-headed conversation could clear everything up. The climax even involves people chasing after their loved one to stop them from getting on that bus/train/boat/plane/you name it. The climax to Hitch feels way too drawn out, like the film is stubborn to tie up its characters despite a horrendously long running time of two hours. And am I alone on this, or are the majority of romantic comedies now built around some premise of deceit? That doesn’t sound like a good way to start a relationship to me.

Romantic comedies play on our love of the familiar. What makes Hitch work are the characters and the performances. Smith and James make an excellent mismatched team and both men are charismatic, funny, and relatable. Hitch is sweet but not too sappy. This isn’t anything groundbreaking but it is pleasant and good-natured. Hitch is your typical rom-com, a fine buddy flick, and a showcase for the near irresistible charms of Smith. It’s hard not to fall under Hitch‘s spell despite Mendes’ character’s best efforts to sabotage your viewing pleasure. This is one date movie not to dread.

Nate’s Grade: B

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