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Junk candy <br> Butler, Aniston are sweet to watch in dopey rom-com

""The Bounty Hunter" is total junk.

But as total junk goes, it's certainly amiable, which is, at the very least, what a movie should be when it stars Gerard Butler ("300's" Mr. Six Pack abs) and Jennifer Aniston who, according to Publicity World, hooked up while it was being made. For all we know, they have yet to unhook, according to the movie publicist's playbook. (I haven't checked yet this morning.)

It would make me feel very high-toned indeed to be able to report the movie entirely laughless, but I must admit smiling occasionally and laughing exactly three times. Here, for instance, is one thing that made me laugh:

Cynical and Sarcastic Cop to Scuzzy Young Dude Under Arrest: Your mother must be so proud.

Scuzzy Young Dude: For your information, I don't know who my mother is, so the joke's on you.

If only the whole knuckleheaded rom-com had that same vaguely off-the-wall flavor, but it doesn't. It's nothing if not dopey and mechanical -- a 2010 version of "The Beauty and the Bloke" and, for the most part, it could have been made in 1959 (although it wouldn't have been quite as dumb back then).

It's about a slovenly, drunken ex-cop of a bounty hunter (Butler) who is sent to retrieve his high-flying reporter ex-wife (Aniston) for jumping bail and to bring her back to jail. After nine months of a marriage that went way south, he's overjoyed at the possibilities for payback.

Before you can ask "payback for what?" (a better movie would have told us), the movie gets down to its basic "comedy" business: allowing Butler to mistreat Aniston onscreen -- throw her over his shoulder and carry her around like a flour sack, handcuff her to beds and doors, etc. He even gets to smear his dirty boots all over her new shag rug and wipe out all the "30 Rocks" stored on her TiVo.

We are, in 2010, back in John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara territory, but with none of the ambiguities that made Duke and Mo interesting.

Every now and then, she gets payback for his payback and comedy supposedly ensues. This is presumed to be immensely satisfying to the audience, and the screening crowd certainly laughed intermittently. But then, it's an ancient movie truism that the audience desire to be entertained by a comedy is three-quarters of the battle. (In other words, tell an audience "you'll laugh" and it usually will, often just to be nice.)

So "The Beauty and the Bloke" is just a yak hair away from being "The Beauty and the Beast." Butler the Bounty Hunter here is a bit of a gorilla, it seems to me. He doesn't shave much, drinks a lot, and drools and snores when he sleeps.

The Beauty is the role that Aniston has perfected on TV and in crummy movies: The Babe Next Door. She swishes around in short, very tight skirts, tank tops cut low enough to rivet every pair of male eyes within 30 feet of her but not so low they make her look cheap.

She not only tells interviewers she had four-inch heels but proves repeatedly in the film she can run in them. Maybe you're not impressed, but I am and I think most male audience members will be.

None of this, of course, takes place in a post-feminist world but rather the dimbulb Hollywood fantasy world of gender where it's always 1959.

Truth to tell, the movie might have been funnier if it had been raunchier and rated R. But that's not how Aniston is sold in these mechanical rom-coms.

The movie certainly isn't much, but the stars do get your attention and keep it.

And besides, how could anyone hate a movie which bothers to include in the soundtrack the late Jerry Reed and his immortal divorce ditty "She Got the Goldmine, I Got the Shaft?"

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

***

The Bounty Hunter

2 stars (out of 4)

STARRING: Gerard Butler, Jennifer Aniston and Jeff Garlin

DIRECTOR: Andy Tennant

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for sex talk and suggested nudity

THE LOWDOWN: Romantic comedy about a bounty hunter sent out to retrieve his
ex-wife for jumping bail on a traffic offense

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