Los Angeles Times


Friday November 17, 2000

     Aside from its contrived and listless tear-jerker narrative, which is about as moving as a month-old Kleenex, there are several other things about "Bounce" you would find difficult to believe if you didn't already know them:
     * that leads Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow are considered two of the industry's best young actors;
     * that they had a relationship with each other in real life;
     * that cinematographer Robert Elswit is the same man who shot the wild and crazy "Magnolia";
     * that filmmaker Don Roos is the same writer-director who made the snarky and self-consciously bitchy "The Opposite of Sex." Clearly there is such a thing as going too far to escape typecasting.
     In fact, though they all try very hard, none of the principals in this failed romantic weepie has much of an affinity for the genre. As two people brought together by a tragedy that only one of them knows is a factor in their relationship, Affleck and Paltrow, who've been excellent elsewhere, display less chemistry than they've shown in magazine photo shoots. Even Woody and Bo Peep had more going on between them in "Toy Story" than these two manage here.
     To be fair, both stars are more than a little straitjacketed by the standard, cliched nature of a script about a coldhearted advertising guy working through tragedy to learn the meaning of life. Plus there's that calamitous plot gimmick, simultaneously solemn, smarmy and squeamish, which makes the Buddy Amaral-Abby Janello relationship one we'd rather not watch developing.
     It's Buddy (Affleck) we meet first. He's gloating in a limo about closing a major deal with Infinity Airlines and acting, as he later accurately describes himself in a more somber, reflective mood, like "one of those people who thought they were hot stuff."
     But that's getting ahead of the story, such as it is. For now, ever so full of himself, Buddy is trapped by weather in a Chicago airport. He meets earnest young playwright and family man Greg Janello (the versatile Tony Goldwyn), decency itself down to his tweedy jacket and cable-knit sweater (Buddy wears Armani, of course). Eager to seduce a comely fellow strandee (Natasha Henstridge), Buddy gives Greg his ticket back to L.A. Which might have passed for a good deed except that the plane crashes, and there are no survivors. Zero. Nada. Not even one.
     Because Buddy needs to change from a shallow jerk into someone we have a shot at caring about, the next chunk of "Bounce" deals with his survivor guilt, which puts him into a deep funk for the better part of a year. He turns into an alcoholic, he goes into rehab, he resists and then embraces AA, but, unfortunately, Buddy is no more interesting, no more palatable after he's chastened by experience than before.
     Meanwhile, Greg's widow, Abby (Paltrow, with dyed brown hair that was thought better-suited than blond to a role as a Valley housewife and mother), is coping as well as she can with her two button-cute sons and a new job in real estate. When Buddy looks her up, apparently to set the record straight about why her husband was on that plane, she lies and says she's divorced, which provides him with a convenient rationale to pretend his meeting with her is completely random.
     Buddy feels ill at ease not leveling with Abby even as he's falling in love with her; Abby feels ill at ease dating so soon after her husband's death, even as she's falling in love with him. The result is wall-to-wall awkwardness, and awkwardness is one of the many things that "Bounce" does not do well. Add in an over-complicated plot and a ridiculously contrived final act, and the result is a movie that's all but impossible to involve yourself in.
     There are several precedents, both dramatic and romantic, for situations similar to this one, from Cornell Woolrich's (writing as William Irish) pulpy "I Married a Dead Man" to the deliriously melodramatic 1942 "Random Harvest," in which an amnesiac Ronald Colman coldly hires Greer Garson to be his assistant, not remembering that she's the love of his life. "Bounce," named for a quality of resilience it hasn't a prayer of mustering, doesn't bare its heart nearly as effectively.

Bounce, 2000. PG-13, for some language and sensuality. A Steve Golin and Michael Besman production, released by Miramax Films. Director Don Roos. Producers Steve Golin, Michael Besman. Executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Osher, Meryl Poster. Screenplay Don Roos. Cinematographer Robert Elswit. Editor David Codron. Costumes Peter Mitchell. Music Mychael Danna. Production design David Wasco. Art director Daniel Bradford. Set decorator Sandy Reynolds Wasco. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. Ben Affleck as Buddy Amaral. Gwyneth Paltrow as Abby Janello. Joe Morton as Jim Weller. Natasha Henstridge as Mimi. Tony Goldwyn as Greg Janello. Johnny Galecki as Seth.

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