‘Bounty’ chemistry falls flat

Posted March 25, 2010, at 7:21 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

THE BOUNTY HUNTER, directed by Andy Tennant, written by Sarah Thorp, 106 minutes, rated PG-13.

There isn’t a surprise to be had in Andy Tennant’s “The Bounty Hunter.” There isn’t a moment that isn’t telegraphed. There isn’t a time when you couldn’t toss some tea leaves and, regardless of your skills in that specialized area, know exactly what’s coming next. The story already has been told in countless other movies.

So, the question is: Why does the film exist?

Beyond the studio’s hope of making a profit, two good reasons are the eye candy generously provided by its stars — Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler. Onscreen, it’s undeniable that they look great together, but where is the chemistry between them? They smile on cue, they shout on cue, they twinkle on cue, but somebody should have clued them in to the fact that struggling to generate a chemistry isn’t the same thing as possessing real chemistry. You can’t go through the motions and expect your audience to buy manufactured emotions, because they won’t. They’re smarter than that.

It’s curious. Much has been written in the tabloids about how these two have it hard for each other in their private lives, but this movie should snuff those rumors cold in the same way that “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” reinforced just the opposite for its stars, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. When “Smith” was released, there was no denying the chemistry between the couple — it blistered the screen and helped to make for a good movie. When the rumors proved true that they were seeing each other, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But here? You almost want to giggle in the face of such rumors.

And that’s a problem. A film like this isn’t selling itself with its plot, which actually is a good thing because the plot is a remedial mess. Instead, it’s hedging its bets on a spark to occur between the leads that will light up the screen. If Columbia Pictures had that, they would have had a hit on their hands, regardless of the plot. But no. Here is a movie that went up against “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and lost. “Bounty” came in third at the box office for a reason, and it will disappear quickly for the same reason.

The plot — well, where does one begin? A good place is at the streamlining factory. The movie is a mess of contrived tantrums, murder cover-ups, awkward romantic asides, shootouts and, wedged into all of this, how the journalist Nicole Hurly (Aniston) must deal with her ex-husband, the bounty hunter Milo Boyd (Butler), when she skips a court date so she can follow through on a potentially important story. Somehow, the stars align, because out of all the bounty hunters in New Jersey, it’s naturally Boyd who gets the job to bring in his ex-wife.

They hate each other with a white-hot passion, but since it’s unclear why there is so much hate between them, the movie gives you nothing to latch onto. What brought them together in the first place? Don’t know. Why should we want to see them together in the future? Don’t know, don’t care. And because you don’t care, the movie is reduced to a formulaic vanity piece of hissy fits for its two stars. The performances are adequate, but like the movie, nothing special. Aniston is Aniston. Butler is Butler.

Boring is boring.

Grade: C-

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

FANTASTIC MR. FOX, directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, 88 minutes, rated PG.

Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is terrific, almost perfect, cataclysmic, not sophomoric.

Anderson and Noah Baumbach based their script on Roald Dahl’s 1970 book, and what they created is a movie encouraged to roam along a wacky landscape where good writing matters, wit infuses the bons mots, and close attention to character is key.

About “Fox” — just try getting through it without a laugh. The film is about Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and how he must win back the trust of his wife, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), and earn the love of his bickering, disenfranchised son, Ash (Jason Schwartzman), when Fox, a newspaper columnist, slides off the tracks and goes back to his thieving ways. The reason? Money is tight, sure, but a fox always is a fox, and shaking off those foxy instincts proves impossible for Mr. Fox to do.

In his sights are henhouses owned by Boggis, Bunce and Bean, grim farmers loaded with rabid dogs and enough artillery to bring down a battalion. The lot of them are a force led by Bean (Michael Gambon), and they don’t take kindly to their trade being stolen by a bunch of crooked animals.

Not that that will stop Fox and company. Joining him in his quest to put turkey on the table are the opossum, Kylie (Wally Wolodarsky), who is a coward at heart but nevertheless tries to get beyond it and whose eyes do things too funny to spoil for readers. Just enjoy them when they do their thing. Also involved is a cagey badger voiced by Bill Murray and Ash’s all-too-capable cousin, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson), who brings Zen along with his zips. Against them is a mother lode of others, not the least of which is Willem Dafoe’s spurious Rat, who knows his way around a switchblade.

What will children make of this movie? Given the film’s level of sophistication, that’s up for debate. This movie is on the fringe, and some scenes are a little sketchy and violent, to say the least. But adults who turn out to rent it — and they are encouraged to rent it — will find something unique and trippy, an animated tale that celebrates the medium and honors it.

Grade: A-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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