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Appealing tale, with nice scenery

A lack of believability only underscores the charm of comedy-drama `Catch and Release,' set in the Rockies.

January 26, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Neither a comedy nor a drama but existing in that comfortable space in between, "Catch and Release," the feature-directing debut of screenwriter Susannah Grant ("Erin Brockovich," "In Her Shoes"), is an oddly appealing, if innocuous, movie of considerable charm.

In a part that might have been played by Julia Roberts five years ago, Jennifer Garner stars as Gray Wheeler, a young Boulder, Colo., woman whose fiance, Grady, dies just before their wedding. She deals with her grief by moving in with Grady's two amicably contrarian roommates, Sam and Dennis, gets further pummeled when Grady turns out to have had some significant secrets and eventually finds love in an unexpected place.

Critically speaking, there's a lot about the movie that doesn't work. It's sentimental, the plot is contrived, the fishing metaphor overreaches and the characters exist in that hermetically sealed fantasy world of movies in which jobs are an afterthought and slacker time is plentiful. Yet the fantasy part may be a big component of the movie's allure.

In the movie, people have time to talk and sort things out. They go for walks. They ride bikes. They drink coffee and spend time in the kitchen together preparing food. There's a warmth and familiarity to the relationships that is very consoling. In its better scenes, "Catch and Release" is reminiscent of the TV series "thirtysomething."

Grant creates emotionally complex characters who are fun to spend time with. Gray, Dennis and Sam make a steadfast trio who find solace in their mutual sorrow. However, their shared equilibrium -- rooted in Gray's dourness, Dennis' stolid predictability and Sam's sarcasm -- is thrown off by the presence of Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), a childhood friend of Grady's now living in California and working as a commercial director. He sticks around after the funeral but he rubs Gray the wrong way.

In the tradition of classic romantic comedies, that initial dislike soon turns to mutual attraction. The development of this relationship isn't quite credible, but once Gray figures out that there's more to Fritz than his casual good looks, and he's not the cad she had imagined, the chemistry between Garner and Olyphant infuses their trysting with the giddiness of the forbidden.

Kevin Smith nearly walks off with the movie as Sam, displaying a surprising range and earning most of the movie's biggest laughs. Sam Jaeger makes a less indelible impression as Dennis, the dependable friend, but you have to like a guy who builds a peace garden as a memorial to a buddy.

A major subplot involving one of Grady's undisclosed secrets brings Juliette Lewis into the picture as a massage therapist from Encino. As good as Lewis is at this type of ditsy but wise neo-hippy, the character is a tired stereotype. It also seems odd that her New Agey obsession with health would be greeted with such cynicism by residents of a college town such as Boulder. And her preparation of a bland tempeh loaf and bean paste is a standard Hollywoodism that seems outdated by 30 years.

"Catch and Release's" virtues outweigh its flaws, though, and its characters provide two hours of pleasant entertainment. More than enough time to acquiesce and give in to the overly symmetrical ending.

Adding to the movie's agreeable nature is a buoyant soundtrack of adult alternative pop featuring Gomez, Paul Westerberg, Death Cab for Cutie and the Doves.

The film's bucolic setting in Boulder, and surrounding areas (partly filmed in British Columbia), is so refreshingly tranquil, you'll be tempted to pack up the mountain bike and head for the Rockies.

"Catch & Release." MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language and some drug use. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. In general release.

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