Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler are warhorses of modern romantic comedy. To be fair, Butler hasn’t really done that many, and certainly not nearly as many as Aniston; it’s just that it seems he’s the go-to guy for a casting director looking for a Manly Man to put up against a woman who is sassy and loves her career, as per last summer’s far more mean-spirited and aptly named The Ugly Truth. In turn, Aniston is the one they call when they need someone who can act flustered or adorably aggravated while also passing for smart and being basically pleasant. It was only a matter of time before these two collided on the big screen, especially under the direction of Andy Tennant, who also helmed Fool’s Gold, Hitch, and Sweet Home Alabama – all basically inoffensive but ultimately forgettable romantic comedies.
Once again, Butler plays the boor with a sloppy American accent and Aniston is the tightly wound neurotic. Milo, a former cop who got kicked off the force for drinking too much after his divorce, is now working as a bounty hunter to make ends meet, and on this July 4th weekend, his quarry is Nicole, his ex-wife. Yes, Milo dances for joy when he finds this out. He hops in his car and pumps his fists in the air and shouts, “Woo!” as he takes off to find her. It’s all so rote I felt embarrassed for Butler.
As Nicole, Aniston plays a very unlikely news reporter whose apparently hot shot career (which includes writing stories about parking tickets) ruined her marriage to Milo. Somehow, being a reporter on the beat does not look too dissimilar to Carrie’s life in Sex and the City as far as expensive property and clothing go, but at least Aniston’s character Nicole has enough sense to take off her heels when she’s doing vaguely Law and Order-like fake detective work on a rooftop. Whatever she’s digging up is so convoluted it seems barely worth mentioning, only that it takes them to Atlantic City, the bed and breakfast where they had their honeymoon, a strip club, and a tattoo shop in Queens. Another convoluted subplot involves a smitten coworker of Nicole’s played by Jason Sudeikis, who has a creepy pedo mustache and ends up on the wrong end of some of Milo’s gambling debts. Because Milo is also an amazing craps player, but Nicole is his lucky charm and he only wins when she blows on the dice so etc.
Sudeikis’ appearance is a good example of comedic actors who have small but actually pretty funny parts. Jeff Garlin is Milo’s boss Sid, who’s pissed about taking his kids camping for the weekend, and his secretary, played by Siobhan Fallon, is a gum-chewing multiple divorcee with some witty lines. Carol Kane appears for a few minutes as the co-owner of the bed and breakfast Nicole and Milo hide out at who is so happy to see the couple return for their anniversary. (Yeah, it’s also their anniversary weekend, natch.) And the fabulous Christine Baranski plays Nicole’s mother, a sexy, funny songbird in Atlantic City who tries to goad her daughter into taking a camera phone pic of Milo’s butt. Even the hotel maid’s zinger about finding Nicole handcuffed to the bed (the unshockable maid had just found a guy in a bathtub full of mayonnaise in a nearby room) is funnier than 95 percent of the banter between Nicole and Milo.
Unfortunately, Anison and Butler stay firmly in their prescribed roles – burly, slightly dim-witted man versus smart, exasperated woman – until the last third of the movie, when the ice begins to break between their two characters and they try, in a shallow, rom-com sorta way, to figure out what went wrong in their marriage. It’s then that the two actors show an interesting sort of chemistry that the first two-thirds of the movie could have surely used. Incidentally, if you look at the press photos of them clowning around at the premieres, you can tell that they have a good rapport and goof around a bit, so it’s really too bad that their real-life friendship or whatever it is couldn’t translate well to the screen.
Butler, who is quite magnetic, proved he can do sharp, quick comedy (and sexy comedy, at that) with RockNRolla. Aniston has a few scenes that let her show off a little and do some action (that doesn’t involve throwing off high heels to pedal a bike rickshaw cart) and even smarten up her character a little, but at the end of the day, it might be enough for Milo but it’s not really enough for us. With a limp script and poor pacing – seriously, how much do they have to drive around? – these two had the cards stacked against them from the beginning.