The Feministing Rom Com Review: The Bounty Hunter

bounty hunter poster, showing Nicole and Milo handcuffed to each other. Text reads: It's just business, it's not personal. Well, maybe a littleRemember in Bambi, when Thumper’s parents tell him that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”? If I were to take Mrs. Thumper’s advice, this review would be about two sentences long.
Luckily, I don’t adhere to the Mrs. Thumper school of reviewing, so I’ve got plenty to say about The Bounty Hunter.
This movie is terrible, and not in a “so terrible it’s kinda good” sort of way. The central relationship in the movie is an abusive one, played for laughs and sighs of “that’s so romantic!” The central characters are two thoroughly unpleasant people who over the course of the movie realize -wrongly – that they should never have split up, and, in between causing each other as much physical and emotional pain as possible, find the time to rekindle their thoroughly unpleasant romance.
Milo Boyd (Gerard Butler) is an ex-New York City cop who now works as a bounty hunter for a bail bonds agency. His ex-wife Nicole Hurley (Jennifer Aniston) is a crime reporter who is pursuing a lead on a purported suicide that might not be all it seems. Nicole recently had a small run-in with the law, and skipped her court date to follow the lead, and when Milo is hired to find her and to bring her in, he is thrilled. What follows is 90 minutes of mutual physical, emotional and psychological abuse as Nicole chases the lead and Milo chases Nicole. There’s handcuffing, threatened shooting, tasering and a lot of punching. The first time we see Milo and Nicole together, in fact, she’s punching him in the groin and he’s chasing and tackling her. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Nicole’s suspicions that the “suicide” was a drug-related murder turn out to be correct, she and Milo solve the crime together and along the way, fall back in love with each other.


At the beginning of the movie we learn that Nicole and Milo had a whirlwhind romance: they were engaged after six months and divorced after nine. Nicole’s mother tells her that she “married a man who made her crazy,” and their mutual friend offers Milo a similar assessment. And because their breakup was so bad, because he hates her so damn much, Milo is all too happy to be given this assignment, and takes enormous pleasure in breaking into Nicole’s apartment in the name of “detective work,” and stuffing her in the trunk of his car, and handcuffing her to a bed, stealing her credit card, trying to run over her bicycle with his car, and on and on it goes. All this is somehow supposed to be funny. It’s hard to watch this relationship unfold without labeling him an abusive ex-spouse, and to wonder about the message that this movie is sending about abusive relationships as actually romantic if you just look beneath the surface. It’s even harder to imagine why anyone would feel a sense of satisfaction at seeing Milo and Nicole eventually end up together.
The Bounty Hunter is part of a long and rich tradition of narratives about couples whose apparent dislike for each other is merely a mask for their passionate love, a tradition that includes some literary heavy hitters like Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy and Much Ado About Nothing‘s Beatrice and Benedick. But here’s the thing about the “they hate each other but actually love each other” trope: You have to make the characters likeable, something usually achieved by giving them witty banter, so that their conflict at least makes us laugh. In the case of Nicole and Milo, neither character is likeable, and there’s no witty banter, either. Instead, there’s just physical violence and emotional cruelty, more than can be papered over with a few candlelit conversations with soft music playing in the background. That the people responsible for this train wreck thought that adding romantic music to the few scenes in which Nicole and Milo aren’t beating the crap out of each other would convince the audience that these two people are deeply in love after all suggests a serious lack of respect for their audience’s intelligence.
The Bounty Hunter fits in to the subset of romantic comedies known as “date movies.” This means that it’s meant to appeal to both men and women (same sex couples never go on dates!). The way you know that it’s a date movie is that it has car chases and bad guys and very little discussion of any emotion other than vindictive hatred for an ex-spouse. I’m not entirely sure why a movie about two people who went on six months worth of dates, rushed into marriage and ended up causing each other a lot of pain is supposed to be good cinematic fare for a nervous couple on a first date, but to each his own. What I find most insulting about the date movie genre, into which movies like which She’s Out of My League, Knocked Up and The Ugly Truth also fall, is the idea that without guns and car chases or crass Jonah Hill-esque sidekicks, men can’t be convinced to see a movie about relationships. Relationships are for girls, dude! Now let’s see some cars crashing into stuff.
This movie does not come close to passing the Bechdel Test. The only other woman Nicole speaks to – ever – is her mother, a sex-obsessed nightclub singer who, when Nicole confides that Milo has apologized for his role in the deterioration of the marriage, says in amazement, “He said I’m sorry without sex?” Yeah, Much Ado About Nothing it ain’t. Because this is a romantic comedy, things end happily for Nicole and Milo – or with whatever passes for happiness in this bizarre alternate universe where tasering someone is a sign of true love – with Milo getting himself thrown in jail so he can spend the night kissing Nicole through the bars of his cell. For us, it ends wishing we could get back those ninety minutes of our lives, and hoping to high heaven that these two thoroughly unpleasant people will split up again before they have a chance to reproduce.
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10 Comments

  1. supremepizza
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    So from your review & the trailers it just sounds like they’ve substituted the witty banter for old school slapstick here, a la The Three Stooges, which a lot of people find really funny. So does it basically boil down to how much you like slapstick?

  2. Lydia
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Ugh. Not surprised though. I pretty much run in the other direction every time I see the name “Jennifer Aniston.” And I’m starting to have the same response to Gerard Butler. “300″ at least DID have some claim to “so awful it’s kind of fun” but “The Ugly Truth?” All I saw was the preview and I wanted to sue the filmmakers for pain and suffering. And now this. Yuck.

  3. Nurse_PhD
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    The Photoshop chop job on the actress’ waist in the poster is enough to tell me to avoid this dog.

  4. Jack
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    God, now I can’t unsee it. Her body looks like a backwards R.

  5. allegra
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    I find the “revenge” rhetoric, that you should enjoy harming your ex-partner simply because they’re your ex-partner, and pretty much no other reason, creepy and disturbing in light of the absurd number of women who are stalked and killed by ex-partners, no doubt out of some feeling of “revenge.” First, why are we perpetuating the immature idea that just because you broke up with somebody, you should want to get revenge on them? Revenge for what? Second, shit like this just normalizes the idea that women somehow enjoy violence, creepiness, and possessiveness, and makes it seem like “It’s OK. She’s still gonna like you even if you stalk her a little and do creepy shit to her.” Um, no.

  6. Geneva
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    There’s a difference between slapstick comedy and stalking/abuse. The context for the violence in this movie is a lot different than something like The Three Stooges.

  7. Kate
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Chloe, I’m loving your movie reviews. Keep ‘em coming! I also have a soft spot for rom coms even thought they almost always play into terrible stereotypes. I’m thinking that Gerard Butler is going to be the new red flag for the most awful “romance” movies though after this, The Ugly Truth which was just…ugh…, and P.S. I Love You which I found pretty disturbing. I also love the Bechdel Test which I’ve only learned about recently. But I was trying to think of any romantic comedy that would have women talking about anything other than men. I mean, if the theme of the movie is a relationship, then generally relationships are what everyone talks about. Can anyone think of one that might pass the test?

  8. KatieChaos
    Posted April 9, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    In Australia the tag line is something like “Taking your ex to jail. Best Job EVER!”

  9. Devoted_Toucan
    Posted April 10, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    I looked up the test. So…1) It has to have at least two women in it – 2) who talk to each other – 3) about something besides a man. I’m wondering whether or not both women have to be main characters? And do the two women have to be best friends? And have a long, or several, conversations?
    I know the big deal is the anger over women in films seemingly not being able to talk about anything but men and sex, but I’m not sure them discussing sex at least once is unrealistic if the two women are meant to be best friends and one gets into a new relationship. Having said that, it does get tiresome…but they’d have to do away with films altogether soon if we started to find everything tiresome (considering you rarely get an original – or original themes – in any genre these days).
    Anyway, ’50 First Dates’ is a Romantic Comedy with two women in it who do speak to each other – and not about men/sex. However, their interaction (despite being very friendly) is always brief… I’m hoping films like this one do count, though, because to look for a film where two women interact without discussing men, whilst dismissing films where the women aren’t around the same age and best pals, seems daft.
    Perhaps I’m wrong ‘n’ this is another feminist thing that I don’t get. Can any sex-positive person here say they’ve never spoken to the person they feel most comfortable with, and are closest to, about their new partner? ‘Cause then getting pissed at it in films might be hypocritical.
    Unless, like I questioned, the test means that the two women talk about something other than men at least ONCE during the movie, rather than them not talk about anything besides men throughout the whole film. Hmm.
    You could try ‘But I’m A Cheerleader!’ It’s a Romantic Comedy with lesbian and gay characters without the typical Rom Com conversations.
    I suppose the test only counts for heterosexual films, though.
    I think a few do exist. Rom Coms aren’t my usual genre. I’ll think about it when my mind behaves.
    On a different note, I’m currently part-way ‘The Bounty Hunter’. I came here to express my confusion and annoyance over the lines:
    “Jimmy is in trouble.”
    “What kind of trouble? …Sex change trouble?” :|

  10. Black Cherry
    Posted April 10, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    God, this movie just pisses me off everytime I see commercials for it.
    Why Gerard Butler? Why?

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