Remember that witty banter between William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (1934)? Remember the romantic charm of Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll being handcuffed together and forced to share a bed in The 39 Steps (1935)? Remember the rapid-fire bickering that led to the reconciliation of ex-husband Cary Grant and ex-wife Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday (1940)? Well, then re-watch any one of those movies instead of Andy Tennant’s unfunny, uncharming and slightly repulsive The Bounty Hunter. Of course, if you remember those other films, chances are you weren’t planning on seeing this anyway—and if you were planning on seeing The Bounty Hunter, nothing I say is likely to dissuade you.
In its very extremely marginal favor, The Bounty Hunter can at least claim that it is neither of last week’s dueling duo of direness, Remember Me and Our Family Wedding. I suppose that’s something. Alas, “something,” in this case, simply means it doesn’t stink quite so much, but is still notably ripe.
Jennifer Aniston is Nicole Hurley, a hard-hitting investigative reporter (it’s called suspension of disbelief) who by pursuing a hot lead on a story misses her trial date for one of those silly charges that only make it to court in the movies. Gerard Butler is Milo Boyd, a hard-drinking bounty hunter (and former NYPD cop), who also happens to be Nicole’s ex-husband. Wouldn’t you know it? Milo gets sent to bring in his ex-wife—and he loves the idea. But do they still really love each other? If you can’t answer that, you need to get out more.
Now, if that’s not enough to induce convulsions of laughter, the script by Sarah Thorp (who penned the silly thriller Twisted a few years ago) is filled with complications of both the comedic and action/thriller kind. Nicole is saddled with a love-struck weasel named Stewart (Jason Sudeikis, who appears to be from Saturday Night Live), with whom she ill-advisedly made out at a drunken Christmas party. She also has goons from that hot lead out to kill her. Milo, for his part, has some low-rent kneecapping specialists after him for gambling debts. There’s also a potentially duplicitous best friend of the leads, Bobby (Dorian Messick, Lucky Number Slevin), who expends a lot of energy casting suspicion on himself.
The problem isn’t just that none of this festoonery of subplots is interesting or compelling, it’s that they’re in the service of a romance between two of the most charmless characters ever to have a movie built around them. While neither character is remotely likable, Butler—with his nonstop uncouthness, slovenly appearance and seeming lack of rudimentary hygiene—is slightly more repellent than Aniston. The film’s idea of romantic banter is nailed in the opening scene (pointlessly moved from the linear structure of the film to the opening, as if the filmmakers think this is a TV show and need to grab your attention with something supposedly dynamic). Stuck in the trunk of Butler’s car, Aniston lights a flare so the smoke will make him let her out (never mind she’d probably be asphyxiated). When Butler opens the trunk, Aniston punches him in the crotch and runs. That’s about as sophisticated as the movie gets—unless multiple handcuffings count (two resulting in characters carrying bulky objects around).
Did no one notice this thing was lying on the floor like a landed fish while they were making the film? Considering the fact that poor Christine Baranski—one of the few highlights of the movie—plays an entire scene with lipstick smeared on her teeth (ever hear of a retake?), I’d say there’s a good chance no one did notice. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including suggestive comments, language and some violence.