Catherine Zeta-Jones gets back in the romantic comedy saddle with the unconvincing, feather-light May-September love story “The Rebound.” Featuring Justin Bartha (“The Hangover”) as the young man who catches Zeta-Jones’ eye, this genial pic has an awkward penchant for misfired grossout humor that feels as though it was introduced in a desperate rewrite. Still, helmer Bart Freundlich (“Trust the Man”) maintains a smooth, amicable veneer that neither offends nor attracts. Pic is expected to be released Stateside in early 2010 but has been bouncing around various territories from Israel to Kazakhstan to Japan this year.
Zeta-Jones plays efficient, super-hygienic 40-year-old suburban mother Sandy — a less driven variation of the competitive restaurateur she played in “No Reservations” — who realizes her husband, Frank (Sam Robards), is cheating on her. Decisively, she moves to Manhattan with her two kids, Frank Jr. (twins Andrew and Jake Cherry) and Sadie (Kelly Gould), in tow and quickly lands a job with a TV sports network.
The next step in Sandy’s quest for independence takes her apartment-hunting, and she finds a vacancy above the funky cafe employing aimless, recently divorced 25-year-old Aram Finkelstein (Bartha). Aram is still carrying a torch for his French ex (the barely seen Stephanie Szostak), and his first encounter with Sandy is realistically innocuous.
The two meet again when Sandy enrolls in self-defense class; Aram’s parodied interest in “women’s issues” ensures he’s there, too, in his new job as the class’ fatsuit-wearing punching bag. Afterward, figuring he’s “safe,” Sandy offers Aram a babysitting gig while she has the date from hell with a sleazy chiropractor (John Schneider). Until this scene, the kids were solely responsible for the script’s crude humor. But as the date goes awry, so do the pic’s scatological intentions: When Sandy’s escort needs to use a too-conveniently placed industrial toilet on the street (in New York?), the scene tries too hard to generate laffs with his flatulence noises and her germophobia, established earlier but quickly dispensed with afterward. The entirely unfunny episode compounds the feeling that the yarn’s heart is in the romance, not the gags.
Apart from some mild opposition from Aram’s classy parents (Art Garfunkel and Joanna Gleason) and an all-too-easy confrontation with Sandy’s jealous ex-husband, there’s little romantic turbulence once Sandy and Aram realize their mutual attraction. But when their previously joked-about age difference comes to the fore, the issue threatens the relationship as effortlessly as it had been previously ignored. The long-awaited dilemma (though it’s not exactly “Harold and Maude”) finally suggests that both protags are on the rebound from their previous relationships. But just as things threaten to get juicy, the pic reverts to its smooth, risk-averse tone, shying away from the tensions that would have made for a more engaging film.
Freundlich’s competent direction and generic tech credits ensure the pic meets the visual standard for New York romantic comedies that has prevailed since “When Harry Met Sally,” though occasionally flamboyant shots suggest the director’s boredom with the material. Rapid (sometimes nameless) introduction of characters with little or no context makes the pic feel like a half-polished fragment of a much longer film.
Zeta-Jones maintains her dignity as the only woman in New York who can’t see how ravishing she is. Bartha has a harder time with his less convincing sensitive New Age guy, despite his easy onscreen charm.