There are no rewards to be claimed for enduring “The Bounty Hunter.” This dire battle-of-the-exes action-comedy severely tests audience goodwill by running an indulgent 110 minutes, crammed as it is with half-baked thriller subplots and aimless supporting characters, as if to distract from the central duo’s nonstop bickering. Sony release could post solid opening numbers on the backs of its ill-served leads Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston, but looks unlikely to prevail in the long run over sour word of mouth.
Perhaps inadvertently, helmer Andy Tennant and scenarist Sarah Thorp have fashioned a sort of modern-day reworking of “His Girl Friday,” insofar as “The Bounty Hunter” is also a comedy of remarriage featuring a feisty femme reporter, an ex-husband in hot pursuit and a raft of gun-toting shenanigans. (It also contains a shot of a newsroom teeming with gainfully employed print journalists, an anachronism if ever there was one.) There, however, any comparisons with the Howard Hawks classic must come to an end; it’s more likely Tennant opted to recycle the warring-couple angle from his previous pic, “Fool’s Gold,” in a less tropical setting. Well, mission completed (“accomplished” isn’t the word).
Charged with an undisclosed felony, New York investigative reporter Nicole (Aniston) skips bail to chase down a story involving a suspicious suicide and possible NYPD corruption. This turns out to be the ultimate revenge opportunity for her former spouse, cop-turned-bounty hunter Milo (Butler), who is assigned to take Nicole into custody. It’s a tidily contrived premise that takes an exhausting 20 minutes to set up, delayed by a chase sequence in the middle of a Fourth of July parade and a clueless reporter (Jason Sudeikis) whose romantic interest in Nicole proves as obnoxious to the audience as it is to her.
Milo soon tracks Nicole down in Atlantic City, and their quarrelsome dynamic moves to the fore, starting with a scene in which he temporarily stuffs her into the trunk of his car, in broad daylight, without a word of onlooker alarm. Relishing his legal authority over his ex-wife, Milo begins their long drive back to New York — and, inevitably, down memory lane — with multiple farcical pit stops involving handcuffs, a Taser, a rickshaw, a golf cart and a bag of money. Add a trigger-happy psycho (Peter Greene) and two thugs, and it’s hard not to feel that all this strenuous over-complication amounts to a vote of no confidence in the two leads. A leaner, smarter movie would have allowed them to carry the day.
As it is, the thesps are essentially retreading past roles — Aniston was a brittle ex in “The Break-Up,” Butler a cocksure pig in last year’s “The Ugly Truth” — which wouldn’t matter so much if their banter had half the sparkle of the Atlantic City casinos they keep driving past. The characters’ turbulent romantic history is referenced often but never explored; when it suddenly dawns on Nicole that she can’t remember why she hates Milo in the first place, it’s clear the filmmakers haven’t a clue, either.
Jeff Garlin, Siobhan Fallon Hogan and Christine Baranski register fleetingly in throwaway roles. Tech credits are routine; Aniston and Butler aren’t always flatteringly lit, and the music cues often seem to be shouting them down.