For a long time in romantic comedy (and in real life too), it seemed as if women wanted men who could be strong and sensitive at the same time — who could give as good as they got but, when it came down to it, knew how to turn on the courtly old-fashioned big-speech-in-the-rain charm. Well, say hello to the Gerard Butler era. The grizzled Scottish hunk doesn’t just look like a modern-day caveman; in every movie he’s made since 300 in 2006, he acts like one too. He gnashes his lines, speaking in a jaunty, domineering growl. And his bite is just as bad as his bark. In last summer’s The Ugly Truth, he taught Katherine Heigl that what women really want is a good old male chauvinist alpha brute. Now, in The Bounty Hunter, he teaches the same lesson, with even less nuance, to Jennifer Aniston.
The two play a couple who have already been married and divorced. He’s an ex-cop who is now a bounty hunter, and she’s a New York Daily News investigative columnist who got arrested for assaulting a police officer. When, at the last moment, she skips a court date to meet a contact on a suspicious suicide case, he’s hired to retrieve her and bring her to jail. Which fills the hateful ex-husband with joy.
The scenario may be as contrived as they come, but for most of The Bounty Hunter, I certainly believed that these two hate each other. The trouble with the movie is that we really want to see why they love each other. There’s no doubt that Butler is convincing in scenes where he has to lock Aniston in his car trunk, chain her to a bed, or rag on her for no reason in particular. He’s like Ralph Kramden in the body of Kirk Douglas. But Aniston, who’s her usual sweetly feisty and appealing self, plays a woman who’s having none of it. The two get one light, fun scene together at an Atlantic City craps table, but if you’re wondering what finally unites them, the answer is not great chemistry; it’s solving a crime. In The Bounty Hunter, the couple that foils a bunch of tiresome grade-C thriller goons together stays together. Whether or not that’s a recipe for love, it’s certainly not a formula for romantic-comedy magic. C