Certain films are so pedestrian, so middle of the road, so damned mediocre that they’re not even worth talking about. With that said, let’s review The Bounty Hunter. Lord knows I never pretended to value my time. Nor, apparently, did the makers of The Bounty Hunter. Nor indeed anybody who actually paid to see this dreck (myself included).
Gerard Butler stars as Milo Boyd, a former police officer turned bounty hunter who ends up hunting down his ex-wife after she skips bail to uncover a police conspiracy. Jennifer Aniston plays Nicole, the ex-wife. There’s an undeniable appeal in the concept, which may not exactly be “high” but does provide lots of opportunities for madcap antics. Or at least it would, if director Andy Tennant didn’t completely phone this baby in.
There’s a thin line between a comedic adventure with a romantic subplot and a romantic comedy with a subplot based in adventure. Aside from Romancing The Stone, the latter almost never works (not that the former has an impeccable track record either). Andy Tennant previously tried to navigate those waters in Fool’s Gold, a pathetic attempt to combine The Deep with every romantic comedy ever made. After watching The Bounty Hunter, it becomes abundantly clear that he learned nothing whatsoever from the experience.
As a romantic comedy, The Bounty Hunter manages to be neither romantic nor even remotely funny. Every tired cliché makes a cameo appearance, yet none of them bothered to do their job. Aniston and Butler’s marriage fell apart before start of the film, so of course the only reason for their break-up must have been because they were “too” perfect for each other. They bicker in a manner only found in bad movies. There’s even a moment when Aniston wraps Butler around her finger by challenging his ego, which he must instantly defend in an outlandish way because it’s the sort of thing Clark Gable could get away with in the 1930’s. Times of have changed, of course, and their behavior careens past Implausible Junction and crash lands right into Dumb As Hell Central.
As an action-adventure, The Bounty Hunter largely suffers because it’s a romantic comedy. Guns are fired, but bullets never hit anybody until the climax (and even then it’s only a flesh wound). People are tortured, but in such a good-natured fashion that the victim is not only left alive, but 50% of the time are allowed to leave with their dignity – and memory of the perpetrators’ faces – completely intact. Half of the antagonists have nothing to do with the story. They’re just Gerard Butler’s comic relief bookies who ineptly bounce around the film with signs around their necks reading “Sorry, We’re Just Here To Pad The Film.” (Incidentally, it says a lot about the makers of The Bounty Hunter that they thought their romantic comedy could use some comic relief.)
The two genres rarely occupy the same space in equal measure. One wonders why anyone even bothered. The plot is simple enough that a talented cast – which Aniston and Butler have previously been part of, albeit separately – could carry it easily. Aniston jumps bail due to a misunderstanding. Butler, the aggrieved ex-husband, accepts the bounty and uses the opportunity to take petty revenge on the woman who broke his heart. Her fight-or-flight response could have easily been attributed to the antagonistic nature of her opponent. She’ll be damned, for example, if she’ll be taken in by her ex. Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant could have done wonders with the scenario using only the sheer force of their overconfident swaggers. Butler on the other hand appears to have been directed to play his character as an uncomfortably pathetic shell of a man, while Aniston was apparently given the suggestion “Milquetoast” and told to just run with it.
But really, any review of The Bounty Hunter could begin and end very quickly if you follow one single law of film criticism:
THE QUALITY OF A ROMANTIC COMEDY IS INVERSELY PROPORTIONAL TO THE NUMBER OF CONTEMPORARY POP SONGS ON THE SOUNDTRACK.
Under this law, The Bounty Hunter was destined to suck. Among the pop “hits” that make an appearance: “Fire Burning” by Sean Kingston, “Rich” by Lolene, “Tik Tok” and “Your Love Is A Drug” by Ke$ha (add five points for two songs by the same artist), “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” by Cage The Elephant, “Get Fresh With You” by Teddybears featuring Red Fox, and “Staying Alive” by The Bee Gees, which would be okay except that it’s a remix by Teddybears (so plus five points for using the same artist twice, and plus ten points for using a good song but sullying it with a remix or cover).
Why is this a problem? Because music is a pervasive element of the filmmaking process. Choosing or composing an ideal piece of music to either complement or cleverly contrast with a specific scene, moment or even the entire narrative is a complicated art form unto itself. Using older songs or committing the entire film to the hands of a dedicated composer can backfire, but at least it implies that a certain amount of thought went into the storytelling. Someone sought out just the right piece of music to tell the story properly. Even if they end up not being able to afford their first choice, they have the ability to choose another.
But if a soundtrack is comprised entirely of music made within a few months of the film’s release – and wasn’t composed specifically for the film – then it becomes abundantly clear that the decision to include said music is a financial one. The story could not be told around these songs from the outset, nor could the filmmakers be confident that a song being released in the same month as their film would complement their narrative effectively. So inevitably the soundtrack becomes an obstacle to properly enjoying a piece of flighty popcorn entertainment, and it’s extremely difficult to imagine who benefits from this scenario. Certainly not the film, which suffers not only from half-assing an enormous part of the post-production process but also from musical choices which instantly and permanently date the film for future audiences.
Perhaps the music industry benefits somewhat if the film is a success, but if it isn’t (and romantic comedies rarely run away with the box office even if they’re profitable, so this eventuality is highly likely) all they’ve done is link what may be a perfectly decent piece of music to an inferior product in the audience’s minds. At best they have achieved in making these songs ubiquitous, but even that only serves to expedite the audience’s intolerance for the music in question. If a song is played everywhere, all the time, then no matter how much you liked it in the first place it will eventually grow tiresome. It’s a Lose-Lose situation for everybody, especially the audience.
The Bounty Hunter tries to be a jack of all trades, but is of course a master of none. Come to think of it, I’m not entirely confident that the filmmakers even know jack. It’s not completely unwatchable drivel, but it’s certainly drivel nonetheless.