The Bounty Hunter

'The Bounty Hunter': An attempt at offbeat humor that doesn't deliver

By Dan Kois
Friday, March 19, 2010

Slack when it should be tight, dull when it needs to be sharp, "The Bounty Hunter" represents a failed attempt to make an Elmore Leonard movie without having to pay Elmore Leonard money. You know Leonard: the author of scores of novels, the source of such beloved comic capers as "Out of Sight," "Get Shorty" and "Jackie Brown." "The Bounty Hunter" hits all the expected Elmore-ian notes: a ne'er-do-well hero, a rogues' gallery of colorful crooks and a tart love story, all set to the beat of a jazzy score. But "The Bounty Hunter" just proves how difficult it is to fake Leonard's sweet, easy rhythms -- and how sour a movie can turn when you get it wrong.

The movie explains its high concept with some artless captions in the opening scene, identifying a squabbling couple along the side of a New Jersey highway as Milo Boyd ("bounty hunter") and Nicole Hurley ("convicted felon"). Milo, played by Gerard Butler, is a fired New York cop who's now tracking down criminals who skip bail. Nicole (Jennifer Aniston) is a brittle reporter who missed a court date for a traffic accident that turned into an assaulting-an-officer charge. And, oh yes -- deep breath -- they used to be married. (Though Butler and Aniston lack all chemistry, Milo and Nicole do have in common unwarranted self-regard and total unlikability, so it makes enough sense.)

"The Bounty Hunter" enmeshes these two repellent characters, often handcuffed to each other, in a convoluted plot that includes loan sharks, bickering thugs, horny newsmen, crooked cops and guylinered tattoo artists. Soon Milo and Nicole are on the run in Atlantic City, renewing their love-hate relationship. The filmmakers clearly believe that their tangled storyline is madcap and delightful, but each new complication just serves to make us feel as though the blessed end of the movie is creeping further and further away.

Granted, the movie's overpopulation does allow a few of the bit players to steal their scenes. Christine Baranski is dependably over-the-top as Nicole's aging-showgirl mom, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan gets more laughs than anyone else in the movie as the deadpan manager at Milo's bail bond office.

But "The Bounty Hunter" even blows its bit-part casting! For goodness' sake, who puts national treasure Carol Kane in a movie and gives her nothing to do as a milquetoast B&B owner?

The efforts of its plentiful supporting characters aside, "The Bounty Hunter" fails in its scene-by-scene job of being engaging and funny. You can't blame this entirely on its stars; we already know Aniston can be charming, and I'm sure that someone, somewhere, sees some flicker of charisma in Butler ("300," "Law Abiding Citizen"). But Sarah Thorp's screenplay feels like a never-ending series of pointless arguments between jerks. And director Andy Tennant ("Hitch") gives his film no snap; few scenes have any discernible comic timing or point of view, and the movie feels saggy and overlong at 106 minutes.

If you're looking for an authentically gritty and fun Elmore Leonard entertainment, it just so happens that the Leonard-produced "Justified" premiered on FX this week. But if you find yourself dragged in to endure this charmless comedy . . . well, you should bail.

1/2 star PG-13. At area theaters. Contains sexual content including suggestive comments, language and some violence. 106 minutes.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company