Wildly over-the-top and devoid of substance, The Bounty Hunter’s small moments of enjoyment stem largely from A., ubiquitous shots of Jennifer Aniston’s curves in a pencil skirt and tight tank, or B., the few seconds when Gerard Butler reveals his abs and is not speaking and/or C., when the credits roll.
In the new comedy vehicle, which opens Friday, the power-house actors team up to play ex-marrieds Nicole Hurley, an ambitious metro reporter, and Milo Boyd, a slobby bounty hunter. Their paths collide when Milo’s next assignment is hauling Nicole to jail, thanks to a cranky judge who doesn’t take kindly to a skipped court appearance. Hot on the trail of a big story, Nicole isn’t about to let her swarthy, hard-gambling ex stand in her way, and uses every trick in the book (tears, seduction and a pit stop are but a few) to try and wriggle out of his clutches.
At first, the pair seem like typical, ex-hating New Yorkers with a soft spot for masochism and a good handle on how to use handcuffs and guns. But when a team of limb-busting thugs goes after Milo and Nicole’s detective work gets her in hot water, the two suddenly need each other for survival. Bound together by danger and agendas, it’s no surprise when the warm fuzzies make them long for their days of marital togetherness — which, we learn, were never quite blissful in the first place.
And therein lies Bounty Hunter’s main stumbling block: Sure, the humor’s broad, Butler’s accent hurts and the script leaves reality somewhere on the BQE, but the core problem is lack of chemistry between the two stars and their characters — tabloid banter notwithstanding. It’s difficult to believe that either Milo or Nicole have redeeming qualities beyond crime-solving prowess and hot bods, much less valued each other during their nine months of matrimony. Part of the issue is the movie’s reliance on exposition; the other is the abundance of broad sight gags and overbearing pop tunes that distract from what might have been a more nuanced dynamic.
Thankfully, there are a few bright spots amid the generally joyless ride. Nicole’s mother Kitty (Christine Baranski) breathes life into her dirty-talking, bedazzled character with fantastic timing and a heartfelt scene that make her more than a one-dimensional diva. Baranski is not only believable as a showgirl-mom with a wild side, but adds some much-needed grist to Nicole that lets us like her, even a little bit.
Most of the time, though, Bounty Hunter’s characters don’t benefit from similar touches. Many in the movie’s motley crew are drawn as stereotypes with dabs of fleeting humor, while for Nic and Milo, nostalgia is a stand-in for hormones and alleged crazy love. But without much to hang on to, their relationship — and by extension, the movie — just feels empty.