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The Bounty Hunter

  • Directed by Andy Tennant
  • Written by Sarah Thorp
  • Starring Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston
  • Classification: PG

You would have to be pathologically fascinated with celebrity gossip to find any compensation in The Bounty Hunter, a painfully contrived romantic comedy/thriller that may (or may not) have brought Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston together as a real-life couple. The story of a bail enforcer who captures his newspaper-reporter ex-wife manages to be both formulaic and patchwork, with whatever twinkles that exist between the stars eclipsed by the overall crudeness.

The plot is distantly descended from a favourite rom-com template, the 1940 Howard Hawkes classic His Girl Friday: That is, it's a remarriage comedy with connections to the newspaper business and crime. Unfortunately, it has more similarities to director Andy Tennant's equally grating 2008 film Fool's Gold, with Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson.

Butler, the Scottish hunk who has been ambitiously pursuing a double-track romantic and action-star career in the past couple of years, plays essentially the same character as he played in The Ugly Truth with Katherine Heigl. He's the caveman slob, who likes booze and meat and shows women who's boss by throwing them over his shoulder. Milo, a former New York police detective who fell apart after his marriage ended, works as a bail-enforcement agent, nabbing people who fail to make court appearances, and tries to avoid his bookie, to whom he's in substantial debt.

When the name of his former wife, Nicole, a hotshot journalist, pops up in a file, he's delighted with the opportunity to get her in handcuffs and take her to jail. Nicole, who totters around the newsroom in high heels and distinctly unconventional reporter garb (a peek-a-boo blouse and derriere-clinging skirt) is a career-obsessed gal too busy for love. She's skipped a court appearance because she's hot on the trail of a story involving a suspicious suicide and possible police-corruption scandal. Hot on her trail, in turn, is Nicole's doofus colleague ( Saturday Night Live's Jason Sudeikis), who's convinced she's in love with him.

Milo tracks Nicole down in Atlantic City, where amidst visits to the gambling tables, misadventures involving bags of money, strippers, and revisiting old lover's haunts, the couple squabble and bond. No explanation is offered as to why they ever split up or why they would want to be together. Butler, forcing his American accent, leers and makes puppy eyes and feels blatantly inauthentic. Aniston, while being handcuffed and physically abused, delivers brittle one-liners, harrumphs in frustration or resorts to nose-crinkling cuteness.

Brief appearances from Jeff Garlin as Milo's employer, Christine Baranski as Nicole's flamboyant mother, and Cathy Moriarity as a mob boss, don't make this any funnier. The half-baked subplot involving bad cops, mobsters and a lot of car chases adds running time but no adrenalin. Too bad someone didn't catch this one before it escaped to the theatres.