You ever get the feeling that you've seen something before, but can't quite place it? I remember when I first watched the enjoyable action-adventure The Rundown (stupidly renamed Welcome to the Jungle for International audiences), which smartly paired the brute force of ex-wrestler, The Rock, with the entertaining wit of Seann William Scott. There was something very familiar about it, even down to the individual scenes. After a second viewing, some time later, I realised that it was basically a remake of the enjoyable early De Niro action/comedy, Midnight Run: the very opening scene was identical, but for more fight action in The Rock's version (the bounty hunter is introduced collecting a troublesome bounty, at the end of which he gets double-crossed by a fellow bounty hunter who incapacitates him and steals his quarry to claim himself). Still, aside from my gripes about no official recognition of Midnight Run, The Rundown was bloody good fun, and made for a perfect vehicle for The Rock's once-promising action career.
Seven years later and we find ourselves in bounty hunter territory again, only this time with Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston in the lead roles of hunter and hunted. Even from the blurb on the back cover you can see this is going to be another Midnight Run-esque bounty hunter story (i.e. this unlikely pair will bicker and fight until they find that they have a common foe), but - as with The Rundown - that does not necessarily mean that it won't be good fun. Perhaps all the story needs, for a fresh new dimension, is the added romantic theme of the unlikely duo being ex-husband-and-wife?
Milo Boyd is a down-on-his-luck ex-cop-turned-bounty hunter. He doesn't make his life any easier by living like a bum, eating like a slob, and racking up such high gambling debts that he has loan sharks after him to break his bones. But when he finds out his ex-wife, journalist Nicole Hurley, has skipped bail, he thinks his luck might have just changed: he is going to get paid to take his ex-wife to jail. After an abrasive reunion, and despite Nicole pulling out all the tricks in the book to escape his custody, Milo is still determined to see her punished. Even when she reveals the truth about the significance of the story that she is working on - involving drug dealers, missing evidence and possible police corruption - he is not interested in cutting her any slack. But when the unlikely duo actually find themselves under attack, they both realise that they are going to have to try to put away some of their differences in order to get to the bottom of this big mess.
The Bounty Hunter is, indeed, a big mess. With a very promising premise, and a trailer that capitalised on the movie's best ideas, it really looked like it was going to be a nice little action-rom-com (not wholly unlike the inoffensive Mel Gibson/Goldie Hawn movie Bird on a Wire), so much so that it earned a nice little Box Office gross, attempting to crack into an audience of both sexes, appealing to them in different ways. Unfortunately, those Box Office results only mean that a whole load of people went home feeling cheated, because the film doesn't live up to expectations, hell it does not even live up to the promising trailer. Overlong and disjointed, it tells what is a relatively straightforward and - if handled correctly - solid story, in what is a terribly misguided way. The jokes are off, the narrative plods, the characters grate, the performances are uninspired and the ending is downright shocking: such a big anticlimax that you won't be able to resist shouting out 'is that it?!!'
Let's start with the cast. Now Jennifer Aniston just plain confuses me. No, I don't care who she's currently dating. I don't much care for the latest Sandra Bullock/Sarah Jessica Parker-reject romcom that she decides to pick up (this one now included). But I have seen The Good Girl, a good film with a great performance by here. Smack in the middle of her career, somewhere between ditzy TV performances and ditzy film performances. That's the bit I don't understand. Sandra Bullock surprised everybody with her turn in The Blind Side, but at least she didn't release All About Steve a year after her Oscar-winning turn. Which is kind of the route Aniston took, becoming more famous for her always overly-public romantic entanglements than for actually being a capable actress in any regard.
Here, as the journalist on the run she is as lazy as ever with her acting, seemingly more concerned with her hair and her looks than her dialogue or delivery. Of course she's gorgeous, but gorgeous for her age. And she stopped acting her age a long time ago. She's in her forties now, and whilst her roles - this one included - at least call for someone around her age (or not so much younger that she couldn't pull it off), her clothing, mannerisms, and general behaviour are consistently of the late teen/early twenties variety. And what's with all the breast gags in the film? Don't even get me started on how inappropriate her outfits always are (I know she's got a great figure, but there's a time and a place for that in every movie), but she has several scenes where she flagrantly uses her cleavage to dupe men in the movie. When she takes a rickshaw ride and doesn't have any money to pay, the driver offers to take her anywhere she wants for a flash of her breasts. (Considering her outfit, there's not much left to the imagination) She agrees, gets him to pull over, steals the rickshaw and shouts 'if you want it back you have to show me your di*k'. Really? Isn't that feminism going a bit too far? Surely, if you can't pay for a taxi ride, you have to get out of the cab? Even if the driver suggests something inappropriate in return for the fact you have no money to pay for the taxi which is already driving down the road, a simple refusal and agreement to get out would suffice. How does stealing the cab make things right?? Later, she goes into a tattoo parlour and, in an attempt to gain entry to one of the offices, grabs her breasts and says she wants tattoos that cup them. When the artist takes her to the chair and wants to see what he'll be working on, admittedly enthusiastic about the proposition, she immediately recoils in disgust, feigning some massive amount of shyness and decency which she must have pulled out of thin air considering ten seconds earlier she was grabbing those self-same breasts and flaunting them. There are definitely mixed-signals being sent here, and the kind of mixed-messages that they might send to younger audience members are not healthy.
All in all, I think Aniston should grow up a little bit, stop trying to cash in on just her physique when she clearly (as is evident from The Good Girl and Office Space) has more to offer, and take some more demanding, interesting roles. But even if she does take more of these limited romcom movies, she has absolutely no excuse for phoning in a tired and questionably inappropriate performance like here.
Now Gerard Butler rose to stardom pretty-much entirely off the back of his shouty Brian-Blessed-from-Flash-Gordon-inspired turn in the style-over-substance Zack 'Watchmen' Snyder adaptation of Frank Miller's 300. But he hasn't really done a great deal with that fame since: his three romcoms and two action thrillers not once giving him a chance to shine. Out of all of them I liked him most in Law Abiding Citizen (despite the terrible, fatally preposterous ending), and he definitely has more strengths in action-orientated roles, as opposed to romances. Bounty Hunter is far from unfamiliar territory for the man, having previously tackled the theme of unlikely romance in The Ugly Truth, where he butted heads with Knocked Up's Katherine Heigl, with similarly lacklustre results (he even played Angelina Jolie's ex in the second Tomb Raider film, again doing the love-hate dance). I think the trouble is that there is no chemistry between him and his female counterparts in his romcoms, and chemistry is pretty vital in this particular genre. It's a shame because some of his better movies, which don't have an overbearing love storyline, display great chemistry between him and his female co-stars (with Thandie Newton in RocknRolla, and with Maria Bello in Butterfly on a Wheel). Without chemistry, Butler just plods along trying to look as good as Aniston, playing to stereotype and simply bringing nothing particularly interesting to the role. The irony, of course, is that the two clearly did have some chemistry in real life, but perhaps playing bitter ex's was beyond their ambit whilst still in the throes of first blush.
The Director, Andy Tennant, is not exactly unfamiliar with this kind of movie either, so I'm not sure what his excuse is for not getting it right this time. He did Sweet Home Alabama, and I really enjoyed that (for a Reese Witherspoon film), and he also did Hitch (which was a silly but still perfectly amusing film that just wasted Will Smith a little bit) as well as Fool's Gold, all of them telling the same general story of an unlikely pairing - a man and woman initially at odds with each other, who eventually find love (in Sweet Home Alabama, like in The Bounty Hunter, they were also ex's). So how did he mess up so monumentally with The Bounty Hunter? Sure, I blame the leads for their lack of chemistry (and lack of effort), and I blame the clichéd script which puts awkward dialogue in the characters' mouths, but Tennant should have known better given his past experience.
Firstly, he should have trimmed out all of the annoying minor characters. We have the bookmakers and their debt collectors, the reporter/stalker, the potentially corrupt cops, the bail bond office workers, the drug dealer, the snitch, the honeymoon-home-owners, the golf caddy and the mother-in-law showgirl. Phew. Scant few of them are vital to the plot (perhaps 3 out of 13) and none of them are likeable or interesting in the least bit. They are the kind of characters that you see in the Deleted Scenes on a feature like this, with Optional Commentary that has the filmmakers admitting that the footage had to be cut for pacing. Well that's what should have happened here. Trim all the fat from this near two-hour beast down to a potentially lean, relatively enjoyable 90-minute piece, and the Director may have salvaged something watchable out of this mess.
As is, The Bounty Hunter is pretty tiresome, and for a movie which had more potential than most of its ilk, it's just a great shame that everybody involved managed to disappoint in one way or another. Try as you might to go into it with a positive attitude, by the end it will more than likely leave you feeling that you have just wasted the best part of two hours of your life. Honestly, everything in this movie you've seen before; and you've seen it done far, far better.
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