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'Bounty Hunter' runs out of gas

Jennifer Aniston has great hair and Gerard Butler has roguish charm, but it's not enough for the action-comedy.

March 19, 2010|By BETSY SHARKEY | Film Critic

"The Bounty Hunter," the new action caper starring Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler as dueling exes, plays to everything that turned one of the "Friends" six-pack into a lip-gloss superstar. First to be exploited is Aniston's perk power. When that fails, the second line of defense is a close-up of that really great hair, which doesn't so much make for a movie as a running photo op.

Somehow Aniston is better at looking sexy than acting sexy. And though there were many reports of just how hot a couple she and Butler were off screen during filming, none of that translated after director Andy Tennant yelled "action." Try as they might, Nicole and Milo, as they are called in the movie, don't steam. Wispy vapors is about as good as it gets.

Hot is the operative word the filmmakers swear by here. It's July in NYC, jungle fever is in the air. Nicole is a Daily News reporter in a tight pencil skirt and a tighter shirt. She's so obsessed with a murder case that she misses a court date for a traffic ticket she really wanted to fight. That bad call, a judge with a bad attitude and a bench warrant triggers an unexpected reunion for the estranged pair while fulfilling the revenge fantasy of a lifetime, since Milo is the bounty hunter who gets to bring her in.

To make matters better and worse, her career has taken off since the marriage crumbled, while Milo's has gone into the proverbial toilet. He was once a top NYPD cop, but a nasty gambling habit and the divorce blues got him kicked off the force and he's been reduced to bounty hunting to pay the bills.

So even before Nicole jumped bail and he got the job, Milo had an ax to grind with his ex. Fortunately for everyone concerned, he's also got handcuffs, which come in handy for those his-and-hers handcuffed to the headboard moments that come as such a surprise.

Like paper dolls, Nic and Milo's antics are strung from New York to Atlantic City as countless, interlocking "she runs, he runs faster" scenarios play out. Anyone can tell these crazy kids are still in love, including a very dry Christine Baranski, as Nic's mother, an aging diva playing the casino circuit with a martini, also dry, always in hand.

The bad guys tied to the murder soon join in, as do a couple of toughs out to make Milo pay up on his gambling debts, which is a grand excuse for some nifty car chases and freeway shoot outs. To add a bit more comic relief, "SNL's" Jason Sudeikis as Stewart, a bumbling, misguided suitor from work who's convinced that Nicole is his soul mate, is in pursuit too.

Butler, whose abs made their most memorable appearance in "300," is a good foil for Aniston; where she plays big, he plays bigger, so I guess size does matter. In the years since the swords-and-sandals saga, he's become something of Hollywood's go-to guy for truly wretched romances in need of a roguish charmer ("The Ugly Truth" and "P.S. I Love You," ugh). Now with "Bounty Hunter," in which he does roguish charmer again, there is the worry that roles that could use the haunting presence he brought to "Phantom of the Opera" will take a back seat to the mush. (On a positive note, the abs are holding up really well.)

Meanwhile, Tennant applies the same soft touch to screenwriter Sarah Thorp's fast, frothy affair that he did to "Hitch" and "Sweet Home Alabama." It's a wise choice to keep things light, and wiser to keep things on the move, because when the bickering couple is forced to make a detour to avoid some of the dangerous crooks on their tail, the slow tease at the B&B where they honeymooned is a snoozer.

What works best are the tightly constructed short scenes that call for Aniston to play impossibly cute and adorably feisty, with Butler offering up an appropriately burly chest for her to beat on. When it comes to Aniston, maybe it's simply time to settle and stop asking her to be "The Good Girl" anymore -- perky just might be as good as it gets.

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