I like romantic comedies. In fact, some of my favorite movies are romantic comedies. Unfortunately, they are difficult to do correctly, and Hollywood has been doing this genre a disgrace for some time. It’s interesting, because I consider both successful comedy and touching romance to be two of the most difficult narrative achievements. So I don’t really understand how this assembly line approach to films that hinge on both has become so prolific. I went in to The Bounty Hunter a bit skeptical, considering the trailers looked like more of the same. And I was right. As Milo says at one point in the film, “Most of the time, if it looks a certain way, it probably is.”
The Bounty Hunter stars Gerard Butler as Milo Boyd. He is a bounty hunter (surprise!) who was kicked off the police force and now makes his living rounding up people who skip bail. Jennifer Aniston plays his ex-wife Nicole Hurly. She is a reporter on the trail of a story that just doesn’t seem quite right. Oh yeah, and she has a court date for assaulting a police officer. Predictable plots being the way they are, she misses the court date, which causes the judge to issue a bench warrant, and Milo jumps at the chance to take his ex-wife to jail and collect on the bounty. Add in a paint-by-the-numbers subplot about a suspicious suicide that ultimately involves both characters, and there’s your film. This subplot isn’t hinted at in the trailers at all, and it may come as a bit of a surprise to people going in expecting an entire film comprised of Milo’s struggle to take Nicole to jail.
The marketing goal of this movie, as it is with most romantics comedies, is the sell of the two leads. Gerard Butler is a good-looking guy and the ladies love him. Jennifer Aniston is still riding the Friends high and is popular with the mainstream public. Put them in a film where unconventional conflict (both emotional and physical) is central to the plot, add in some real life dating rumors, and Columbia has a surefire money-grab at the box office. The story isn’t important, their characters aren’t really important, and the subplot certainly isn’t important. Everything serves as a catalyst to move the conflict between Aniston and Butler forward, and that’s the movie’s selling point, as anyone who has seen the trailers can see.
The problem? Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston have zero chemistry. None at all. A bad script is one thing (and this movie certainly has that), but occasionally two lead actors can rise above bad writing and bad directing to make a terrible film at least mediocre by showing real chemistry onscreen and drawing us into their quest for reconciliation, however absurd it may be. But don’t expect that here. Their interactions just never really feel authentic, and certainly aren’t interesting, and I’m not really sure why that is. I think Butler is a decent actor, who has unfortunately fallen into the romantic comedy trap since 300. I enjoyed RocknRolla and Gamer wasn’t a complete waste of time, but this guy needs a new manager, agent, or both. Aniston falls into the same category. She has some acting range, as seen in The Good Girl and Friends With Money, but now she just makes the same films over and over.
Like the actors, the characters of Milo and Nicole don’t feel very authentic either. Not once did I ever really accept their relationship, and I certainly couldn’t ever imagine them being in love. It’s not that their characters were unbelievable, per se; some of the things they do work within the film’s universe (not all), but they are missing those little touches that help an audience buy their interactions. Rule number one for a romantic comedy — your characters have to be well-written enough for the viewer to accept the inevitably ridiculous things they will do. That’s why characters like Dermot Mulroney’s in The Wedding Date work, and Matthew McConaughey’s in Failure to Launch don’t. Both are bad romantic comedies, but I can accept Mulroney’s motivations and actions in context. Milo’s actions as a bounty hunter, Nicole’s as a reporter, and their conflicts with each other make little sense and induce all-too-common eye rolls. Milo does have some legitimately funny lines, however, and Butler is able to pull them off. Aniston was not funny once in the film. I never liked her character and couldn’t really care about the things she did. I chalk this up to Butler just being inherently more charismatic than Aniston.
The only semblance of triumph in The Bounty Hunter is its supporting cast, anchored by Jason Sudeikis, Jeff Garlin, and Siobhan Fallon. Sudeikis has a few funny moments as one of Nicole’s coworkers convinced of a budding relationship based on one drunken night of kissing. Garlin is always great, and his few scenes as Milo’s bail bondsmen employer strike the comedic mark. But the only truly laugh out loud moments of the entire film come from Siobhan Fallon, who plays Garlin’s wife. She has maybe three or four lines total, but there is more comedy found there than the rest of the movie combined. One in particular had me actually digging down into my gut for a little laughter. The rest of the cast falls flat, much like Milo and Nicole, and I thought Christine Baranski’s performance as Nicole’s mother was downright awful.
What can be said about the story and direction? Director Andy Tennant (Hitch) does an acceptable job. The direction never gets in the way of the film, and the action sequences aren’t bad. As is the case in most romantic comedies, the direction and cinematography are just there, not an enhancement for or detraction from the film. The main story of Milo taking Nicole to jail is predictable and the subplot involving Nicole’s interest in a suicide case is pretty ridiculous, full of plot holes and bad writing. It all serves as a catalyst to bring as much conflict into the lives of Milo and Nicole as possible to keep them playing off each other. Unfortunately, both stories are boring and come together in easily predicted ways. The ending is also one of those typical romantic comedy endings that just leaves you shaking your head with raised eyebrows as you exit the theater. It’s a shame too, because I actually think the premise could have worked with a good script that cut the tired, cliché subplot and had fully-realized characters with better-casted leads.
Ultimately, The Bounty Hunter’s success always counted on Butler and Aniston being likeable and funny. They are neither in the film, and that’s its primary downfall. I could have accepted everything else about the movie if they had succeeded, because plot rarely plays a central role in romantic comedies; it’s all about the characters, and falling in love with them as they fall in love with each other is what’s important. Unfortunately, the only thing I felt was boredom.
The Upside: Siobhan Fallon, Jeff Garlin, and Jason Sudeikis. Butler delivers a few good lines.
The Downside: Romantic comedy without romance or comedy. Bad plot, bad characters, and zero chemistry between Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston.
On the Side: Butler and Aniston are supposedly an item in real life. If that’s true, it makes me wonder how good the relationship is if they can’t muster any more onscreen chemistry than they did here.