Andy Tennant´s The Bounty Hunter is a bizarre amalgamation of romantic comedy and buddy cop picture, synthesizing the plots of both genres as best they fit. Which is to say: one minute it´s one movie, and the next it´s something completely different. It´s rough going for the first hour or so, but if you can sit it out, it gets better by the end. A little.
The model here was obviously Martin Brest´s Midnight Run, with Gerard Butler in the Robert De Niro role, and Jennifer Aniston in place of Charles Grodin. Wait, that sounds too good: imagine Butler in his chauvinist The Ugly Truth persona, and Aniston as, uh, Kate Hudson. And instead of Brest, we have the director of Fool´s Gold.
Butler´s Milo Boyd is the De Niro bounty hunter, an ex-cop who now makes his living chasing down bail jumpers for the local bondsman. Aniston´s Nicole Hurley is Milo´s ditzy, but successful, reporter ex-wife, who has just jumped bail while chasing down a big story. You can see where this is going. Spoiler warning: while the characters initially hate each other, they eventually come to embrace one another in a lengthy journey fraught with cliché and contrivance. Sounds familiar.
But wait, there´s more, in the form of two perfunctory subplots lifted from Midnight Run that seem to take up at least half of the runtime: Milo is chased by some ha-ha mafia goons over gambling debts, while Nicole is chased by some more serious goons for snooping around a suspicious suicide. Exciting!
The Bounty Hunter continues a discouraging trend in recent films, taking two attractive, likable stars, paring them down to grotesque stereotypes, and having them yell at each other for most of the movie. I think it was Dante´s 4th or 5th circle of hell that was reserved for looped screenings of Leap Year, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, The Ugly Truth, What Happens in Vegas, Bride Wars, and so on and so forth.
Lost amidst the wreckage is a talented supporting cast, including Jeff Garlin as the bail bondsman, Siobhan Fallon as his secretary, Christine Baranski as Joan Rivers, and Peter Greene as the go-to bad guy. These characters – and others – are left in the background as we´re treated to endless, and laughless, mugging from Saturday Night Live´s Jason Sudeikis.
In an effort to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, the makers of The Bounty Hunter have combined action, detective story, thriller, romance, and comedy material into one big mess; none of the elements have been done any justice, ensuring that the resulting film appeals to no one. Great. Judging by the trailers, we can expect more of the same from Shawn Levy´s Date Night, with Steve Carrell and Tina Fey, and James Mangold´s Knight and Day, starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.
George Romero´s 1973 The Crazies was a brilliantly directed piece of government paranoia focusing on a small town that becomes quarantined due to a bio-chemical outbreak, only to have the residents – infected and not – fight back against the white-suited, gas-masked military presence. It wasn´t a true horror film, instead focusing on the realistic logistical aspects of the situation, which made it all the more terrifying. Only budgetary limitations held it back.
So what better than a higher-budgeted mainstream remake directed by Breck Eisner (son of ex-Disney honcho Michael)? The bad: this one turns quickly becomes a shell of the original by turning itself into a generic zombie film. The good: on that level, it works well enough.
The small town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa, is in for a rude awakening. During a high school baseball game, the town drunk walks onto the outfield armed with a shotgun; when Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and Deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) find that they cannot reason with him, Dutton takes him out. Only problem: he hadn´t had a drink in two years. Another town resident sets fire to his own house with his wife and son inside. What´s causing the residents to act so strange ?
Whoa – we´re already way behind the original, which dove into the situation by establishing everything you need to know in the first five minutes. Here there´s a ‘mystery´ that Sheriff David needs to investigate, which proves inefficient because (1) those that have seen the original know exactly where this is headed and (2) it doesn´t really matter, anyway.
What matters is that everybody is going crazy, and soon the Sheriff, his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), and the Deputy are fighting off their now-bloodthirsty friends and neighbors while also battling the military, which has quarantined the town and isn´t keen on providing any answers.
In the original, the crazies were regular folk that had just gone nuts, whether that meant blasting away with a shotgun or dancing in the meadow as if they were on LSD; here, they´re zombies-cum-serial killers, who go around methodically butchering people in gruesome, inventive ways. Mostly gone are the scenes of mass terror and paranoia, in their place dark corridors and things that jump out and say “boo!”
But like Zach Snyder´s Dawn of the Dead remake, while the deeper value of the source has been mostly jettisoned, the film is still effective. Olyphant, Mitchell, and Anderson make for likable leads, the production is efficient, and visceral thrills are provided. And underneath it all, the subtext of Romero´s original is still there, giving the remake a much-needed backbone. You could do worse.
Also opening: Gainsbourg (Vie héroďque) (Showtimes | IMDb), a French biopic on famed singer Serge Gainsbourg. Screening in French with Czech subtitles. Actress Lucy Gordon, who plays Gainsbourg’s wife Jane Birkin, committed suicide while the film was in post-production.