CMT, the network formerly known as Country Music Television, has gotten into the TV-movie business, though calling the product “original” might be a modifier too far. “Reel Love” is perhaps most noticeable for Burt Reynolds’ casting as the cranky old coot — assuming the kind of role historically associated with Edward Asner or Wilford Brimley, in a script that, done theatrically, would probably star Sandra Bullock and Robert Duvall. As is, we get country crooner LeAnn Rimes in a lot of tight skirts and blouses, and a movie that isn’t just comfort food, but down-home pabulum.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Rimes’ Holly is a big-city lawyer preparing for a major case along with her snob of a boyfriend (Jeff Roop) when she hears her father Wade (Reynolds) has suffered a heart attack. So she hightails it in her boyfriend’s luxury car back to the home of her Southern roots, where dad is determined to get back on the lake and catch the legendary bass he insists lurks out there.
Once there, she begins a contentious (translation: flirty) relationship with body-shop guy Jay (a genuinely hunky Shawn Roberts), an Iraq war vet who refers to himself as a “catch and release man” — proving, in case you missed it, that fishing terminology can easily be used to approximate sex/dating chat.
After that, Sharon Weil’s script and Brian K. Roberts’ direction pretty much just bob in the water, killing time until the inevitable romantic, father-daughter and fishing beats rear their barely hidden heads, Hallmark Channel-style.
Rimes and Roberts aren’t bad, so far as it goes, and Reynolds dutifully collects what presumably is a decent check for a modicum of screen time, dispensing wisdom about fishing being better than getting laid. If that appraisal sounds uncharitable, as Wade might say, you can kiss his bass.
Two more unrelated points ought to be mentioned: The movie boasts 10 executive producers, which seems excessive given what’s on the screen; and it begins at 7 p.m., presumably so all the bass fisherman and those who love them can get an early start the next day.
Apparently, you can take the country out of the name, but not out of the network. Even so, CMT probably knows its audience, which is why “Reel Love” operates on the theory that to get viewers biting, the bait should be shiny but awfully bland.