The Bounty Hunter (**)

The Bounty Hunter.  111 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Andy Tennant.  Written by Sarah Thorp.  Starring Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Jeff Garlin, Christine Baranski, and Cathy Moriarty.

As far as ill-conceived star vehicles go, The Bounty Hunter is pretty bad.  Not offensively bad (like director Andy Tenannt's last outing, 2008's Fool's Gold), but lame and uninspired.  It pairs Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler as fighting exes, who might just get back together if they can survive the day with each other.  The Bounty Hunter is a high concept romantic comedy with action elements - no doubt dreamed up in a high-powered studio exec's office as a way to pull in both males and females in equal measures.

Butler plays Milo, a former police officer turned bounty hunter who gets the gig of his dreams when his ex, Nicole, skips a court appearance and he has to bring her in to jail.  Easier said than done given the fact that she's investigating a murder and he's deep in gambling debt owed to some bad guys who are hot on his pursuit.  Like most movie couples in romantic action comedies, they bicker with each other, handcuff each other, and engage in fairly intermittent, inartfully staged chase sequences.  The Bounty Hunter runs close to two hours long, and makes you feel every minute.

Movies like this are usually easy to digest though.  They don't have to be rocket science.  They can take an easy premise like one ex arresting another and bringing her to jail while escaping the clutch of bad guys, and spin it into something breezy and entertaining.  But, and this is a must, the actors on screen need two things: charm and chemistry.  Butler and Aniston have neither.  Aniston is a long ways from her glory days on Friends, and she's played the same character in the same kind of crappy movies for so long now that I can't even remember what made her so engaging in the first place.  Don't get me wrong - she looks great and she still has some nimble comedic chops, but she's fairly annoying here.  Butler is even worse.  When he's stuck playing an American, he takes on this accent which mostly consists of him chewing through his words as if he were eating a burger or something.  It's weird and distracting, and between this and last year's The Ugly Truth, he has a knack for selecting boorish, unappealing louts.

Sarah Thorp's script is all set-up and no laughs.  The premise is fine, but poorly executed.  That murder that Nicole is supposed to be solving?  It makes no sense, and the movie's big climax is a half-assed shoot-out in a police evidence inventory. Tennant is the wrong man to helm an action comedy, though I suppose he does slightly better than Kevin Smith did with Cop Out.  Hey, give me a totally different director, a hundred more finely tuned drafts of the script, another lead actor, and a 90-minute running time, and that aforementioned studio exec might actually have something here.

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