So you liked “Midnight Run” but thought it needed to have less humor and more tired, generic romance? You like Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, but only when they sleepwalk their way through third-rate basic cable rerun fodder? You’re totally okay with director Andy Tennant’s thin, disposable product, even the ones, like “Fools Rush In” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” you forgot ever existed? Allow me, then, to offer you “The Bounty Hunter,” this week’s entry in the neverending circle of watered-down, mid-range, completely unmemorable Hollywood comedies.
The whole thing reads less like a story anyone was eager to tell and more like a deal made over lunch. “OK, we have Aniston and Butler lined up for some action-comedy, and I guess they can bicker or something for a while. I dunno, make ’em exes. It’ll be cute. Maybe they can get involved in solving a crime, just so the guys don’t think it’s a chick flick. Make sure Butler speaks in some half-assed American accent and Aniston shows a lot of cleavage. See if we can get Coke, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks in on the usual overblown product placement scheme. What are you having? I think I’ll order the Caesar salad.”
The movie opens with a flash-forward and some on-screen text telling us that Aniston and Butler are playing ex-spouses, even though, really, the redundant dialogue that follows over the next 106 minutes does a fine job making this fact clear. It also does just fine teaching us how Milo Boyd – a name that probably exists in real life, but surely not connected to someone who looks like Gerard Butler – is a former cop and current slobbish bounty hunter with a major gambling debt, and how Nicole Hurley – perhaps named because of the ease in which we can call her “Nick,” because every romantic comedy must have a woman with a masculine name; see also: Alex, Sam, etc. – is an ace reporter who’s wanted by the law after she skips out on a court date to follow up on a scoop.
Milo is assigned to track down Nicole, and from those seven words, I assume you can figure out the rest. Yes, the two spend all their time arguing, then fall back in love, then team up to solve the mystery at the heart of Nicole’s scoop. So, you know, spoiler alert. The screenplay (by Sarah Thorp, who also wrote the Ashley Judd thriller “Twisted,” another of those movies you forgot existed) doesn’t even bother trying something different. Heck, it doesn’t even consider the possibility of trying something different.
Instead, it dumps its main characters into a series of go-nowhere set pieces, like the scene where they visit a country club and wind up driving a golf cart into a water hazard, because that’s what you do when you have a golf course in a lazy movie. The exes also wind up at the bed and breakfast where they spent their honeymoon three years earlier and where they now have to pretend to still be married, because that’s what you do when you have a honeymoon suite in a lazy movie. There is also a side trip to Atlantic City, where Milo wins, then loses, some money, because that’s what you do when you can’t figure out how to get your Jersey-based characters all the way to Las Vegas but still want to turn in a lazy movie.
There’s also an awful subplot featuring Jason Sudeikis as Nicole’s smitten co-worker who winds up mistaken for Milo, kidnapped by mobsters, beaten senselessly, then completely forgotten for the last hour of the movie. It’s not so much “funny slapstick” as “middling filler material,” and when he finally shows back up after a long absence, we remember, oh, yeah, he was in this movie, too.
(Carol Kane, Jeff Garlin, and Christine Baranski also show up along the way. Aside from a few weak quips, none are asked to do very much in the way of comedy, which is a waste of three talents. Cathy Moriarty appears as a mob boss, but again, the movie has nothing for her to do.)
We get plenty of chases and gunplay but no real action, plenty of insults and slapstick but no real comedy, plenty of overlong discussions about reuniting, but no real romance. Aniston and Butler are never convincing as a couple – or, really, as characters at all. It’s as if they knew we’d all forget about this movie in two or three weeks, and acted accordingly.