A bounty hunter learns that his next target is his ex-wife, a reporter working on a murder cover-up. Soon after their reunion, the always-at-odds duo find themselves on a run-for-their-lives adventure to Las Vegas.

This bounty needs a mutiny.

Movie posters aren’t known for their honesty, but the Australian one-sheet for The Bounty Hunter sums the whole lacklustre affair up pretty neatly: 'It’s a job. It isn’t personal."

This sentiment is writ large on the pained faces of Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston, as they strain with all their movie-star might, to wring something – anything – out of screenwriter Sarah Thorp’s dire rom-com/road movie/action-adventure mash-up.

The poster’s policy of 'full disclosure’ doesn’t stop at the tagline. It also points out that The Bounty Hunter is 'From the director of Hitch", as if anyone who endured that 2005 Will Smith abomination held warm feelings for the man responsible. That man is Andy Tennant, a terrible hack who paints his films in garish pastels and asks everyone involved to act as though they were in a children’s pantomime. His greatest directorial achievement to date is in not making us hate Drew Barrymore as Cinderella in the likable Ever After (1998); he showed no such restraint as overseer of the worst film choices of Salma Hayek (Fools Rush In, 1997), Jodie Foster (Anna and The King, 1999), Reese Witherspoon (Sweet Home Alabama, 2002) and Kate Hudson (Fool’s Gold, 2008). Oh, and yes, now Jennifer Aniston.

Butler plays Milo Boyd, an ex-cop now eking out a living as a bounty hunter, that most-American of jobs in which lowlifes who couldn’t cut it as legitimate lawkeepers still get to chase bad guys who skip bail. Aniston is his ex-wife Nicole, looking ridiculously tanned and amazingly buff for a ditzy, deskbound reporter. She misses her court date (she had a little misunderstanding with a policeman, which is apparently okay, so long as you’re cute and harried) whilst pursuing a lead in a career-making story about a murder-cover up. With a $5,000 commission to be made, Milo sets after her.

One of the most crucial moments in any romantic comedy is the ’meet-cute’ – that moment when the two leads, destined to fall in love, meet for the first time and establish the hurdles that must be overcome for the film to have its predetermined happy ending. Great modern meet-cutes include when Sally first met Harry on her college campus, or when Michael Dorsey, dressed as Dorothy Michaels, aka 'Tootsie’, first glimpsed Julie Nichols: attraction is instant, chemistry is palpable and the obstacles to love are recognisable.

The Bounty Hunter has what is arguably the most awful 'meet-cute’ in the history of cinema. Milo snares Nicole at a race track, they screech at each other a lot, she makes a run for it, is caught and it’s over (though it seemed to go on for a very long time). The scene manages to achieve all of the things that a meet-cute is not meant to do: it establishes the two leads as entirely devoid of chemistry; it defines the characters as loudmouth jerks who deserve each other’s abysmal personalities, and it makes the audience feel that whatever obstacles these two have to overcome to rediscover their love, just aren’t going to be worth watching.

The bulk of the movie from this point is a cross-country road-trip, as the evildoers that Nicole was investigating track her down to silence her, and she and Milo must pool resources to escape their clutches. The mismatched-travellers premise is as old as cinema itself and when done right it can be glorious: Frank Capra’s multiple Oscar winner It Happened One Night (1934) is the best example; more recent flagbearers for the genre include Martin Brest’s Midnight Run (1988), with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, and John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), with Steve Martin and John Candy, and Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise (1991), with Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. The Bounty Hunter should never be spoken of in the same sentence as those fine films – Tennant fills his car with two insufferably-engorged egos shrieking worthless dialogue in shrill voices, and asks us along for the ride.

Oh, and Gerard Butler...enough with the comedies, okay? The shameless mugging and indecipherable faux-American accent aren’t working, especially when the material is as weak as 2009’s The Ugly Truth and now The Bounty Hunter. Frankly, we are getting plenty of laughs from your other films, like 300, Gamer and Law-Abiding Citizen. Lay off anymore attempts at humour, even if your agent demands another pairing with the latest headline-friendly Hollywood hottie.


In Cinemas 18 March 2010,
Wed, 07/28/2010 - 11