Jen and Gerard have a price on their heads in The Bounty Hunter

by Mark Burger

The Bounty Hunter is a flimsy vehicle for its romantic leads, Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston, cast here as an ex-copturned-bounty-hunter (is that where the title by Mark Burger comes from?) and his contributing columnist ex-wife, a hotshot newspaper reporter he’s hired to apprehend when she misses a court date because she’s working on a big story.

That, essentially, is the story of The Bounty Hunter, which seems to take for granted that audiences will find Butler and Aniston so photogenic (true) and irresistible (not necessarily) that they’ll flock to see it in droves.

Butler’s character is named Milo Boyd and Aniston’s is Nicole Hurley. They’re meant to be charming and kooky.

The two actors deserve better — but more importantly, so does the audience. This is stock screwball comedy, constructed entirely upon star power, yet it gives its stars precious little to work with.

In Sarah Thorp’s alarmingly slim screenplay, scenes build to individual punchlines (few of which are funny), but they never build to a cohesive, or even coherent, whole.

Helmer Andy Tennant, whose past credits include such high-concept, low-yield comedies as Sweet Home Alabama (2002), Hitch (2005) and Fool’s Gold (2007), who might not know what to do with a good screenplay if he read one — judging by that track record — directs with a leaden touch that only serves to showcase the thinness of the story.

In some scenes, Butler and Aniston are shown in such glaring individual close-ups that one wonders if the other was even on the same continent, much less the same room. That’s hardly conducive to successful screen comedy, and works against the intended chemistry.

Both Aniston and Butler are personable, but their work here is unremarkable, and there’s little onscreen rapport between them. Their characters could be complete strangers as opposed to bickering exes, and it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference.

When they argue about their past, it never seems remotely credible.

Of the supporting cast, only Christine Baranski (as Nicole’s mother) makes much of an impression, primarily because she’s Christine Baranski. It has nothing to do with the role she’s playing. Jason Sudeikis is annoying in an annoying role, that of fellow reporter Stewart, who has deluded himself into thinking that he and Nicole have a relationship. As you might expect, the character of Stewart is subjected to all sorts of humiliation throughout the film. It isn’t pretty and, worse, it isn’t funny.

Among the film’s few surprises is that, despite all the running around in high heels, Nicole never breaks one. Nor, despite that running around and the repeated attempts on their lives— usually by Peter Greene, cast as a steely but inept killer — do Nicole or Milo break a sweat. They seem unduly, if blithely, unconcerned.

There is absolutely no urgency to the proceedings. Although Nicole is working on a Big Story and Milo can score a Big Payday when he brings her in, there’s no pressure for them to get where they’re going.

A throwaway line about Milo being an inveterate gambler necessitates a detour to the tables at Atlantic City. And, considering she’s supposed to be a crusading reporter, Nicole rarely seems concerned by such trivial matters as deadlines. (If you think newspapers are growing rare, even rarer is the film that gets the milieu with even remote accuracy or credibility.)

The Bounty Hunter seems to exist in some sort of Hollywood netherworld where the most important thing is the open ing-weekend gross. There’s nothing wrong with a little fluff from time to time, but when it’s as stale and bland as this, it gives fluff a bad name.