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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler try unsuccessfully to outrun a lame screenplay.
The Bounty Hunter is one of those movies that make you feel completely duped. Surely everyone in the talented cast - which includes Gerard Butler, Jennifer Aniston, Jeff Garlin, and Jason Sudeikis - knew this script was of the "thousand monkeys sitting at a thousand typewriters" variety. They had to have. If not, they are the dumbest people on earth. So why sign up for such a routine, uninspired romantic comedy? For a paycheck, of course. The stars get rich, while the audience suffers needlessly.

Butler plays Milo Boyd, a bounty hunter who owes a lot of money to a bookie. He has the chance to earn $5,000 when his bail bondsman best friend Sid (Garlin) offers him the chance to hunt down Nicole Hurly (Aniston), a reporter who skipped a court date after being accused of assaulting a police officer. The catch: Nicole is Milo's ex-wife. They hate each other now, so the idea of bringing her to justice is incredibly appealing. Nicole, however, has no intention of going peacefully. She leads Milo on a chase throughout Atlantic City, during which she inflicts all kinds of pain on him (punching him in the groin, tasing him, etc.). Now, Reader, I assume you know the Law of Bickering Movie Couples, so you no doubt know where this story is heading.

But wait - there's more! Nicole skipped her hearing because she had a lead on an important police corruption story she's been trying to break. There may have been a murder cover-up involving some dirty cops and a drug dealer. So while Milo is chasing her, Nicole is also being chased by a bunch of shady lowlifes who want to kill her.

The Bounty Hunter has two really significant problems, the first being that the whole subplot involving Nicole's investigation is woefully out of place. It's confusing, the villain is never credibly developed, and it's assembled out of spare parts. (Another cops-dealing-drugs mystery!?) You can sense that the filmmakers wanted to appeal to men and women equally, so they tried to fuse a romantic comedy with an action picture. That forbids the movie from finding any consistent tone.

The other problem is that the rom-com half of the movie doesn't work any better. It's such a cliché to have a bickering couple fall in love. We saw it earlier this year in Leap Year, and Butler himself made a similar picture last summer called The Ugly Truth, which bore a strong similarity to another summer '09 film called The Proposal, which felt ripped off from dozens of previous Bickering Couple romantic comedies. The screenplay by Sarah Thorp hauls out all the familiar tropes: Milo and Nicole see each other in various states of undress, they are forced to share a bed (in the same B&B where they celebrated their honeymoon, no less), they have a moment of danger where he has to save her life, etc. There is not one single original or new moment in the entire story. I wish The Bounty Hunter had had more of a War of the Roses type vibe, with Milo and Nicole actually hating each other, rather than simply using passive-aggression to mute their repressed love. Had the picture done that and dispensed with the action subplot, this might have been a halfway decent piece of entertainment.

Instead, it just struggles. For lack of anything interesting to do, director Andy Tennant makes sure to constantly shoot down the front of Aniston's low-cut blouses. Seriously, her breasts are on such constant display here that they practically deserve their own separate screen credit. Sudeikis, often very funny on "Saturday Night Live," is tossed in as a fellow reporter who is obsessed with Nicole. When the story runs out of ways for him to gratuitously show up, it simply dispenses with him. And did I mention the scene where everyone goes to a strip club and all the strippers are fully clothed? Okay, I know that has nothing to do with anything, but it's just one more example of how imbecilic The Bounty Hunter is.

The big draw, I suppose, is seeing Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler onscreen together. Their chemistry is nil. Maybe they don't have it, or maybe it just doesn't seem that way because Milo and Nicole are, by and large, thoroughly detestable characters. I didn't like them, didn't want to see them end up together (although, in fairness, they probably deserve each other), and couldn't wait to escape them. This is the overall problem with Bickering Movie Couples: the fighting, if taken to an extreme, can come off as nasty rather than endearing. That's what happens here. The two characters are so relentlessly mean to each other that we start to hate them. This would be okay if, as I said, the movie took more of a dark comedy, War of the Roses approach. But since we're supposed to root for these two, it seems distasteful when Milo shoves Nicole into the trunk of a car, or when she zaps him with a taser gun.

I laughed twice. No more than that. None of the action scenes thrilled or excited me. The Bounty Hunter runs a little under two hours, but feels like its much longer than that. Aniston and Butler phone in their roles, essentially replaying variations of characters they've played successfully in the past. No doubt they both received big fat paychecks for their "work." And now they drop this big turkey upon the ticket-buying audience. Better to stay home and watch "Friends" repeats and 300 on DVD, rather than suffering through this cynically conceived, unfunny, non-romantic sludge.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Bounty Hunter is rated PG-13 for sexual content including suggestive comments, language and some violence. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.

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