Remember 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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