Movie Review: Catch and Release

Last week, Melissa and I saw Because I Said So for $5 at the Cinema de Lux 20 on Hurstbourne Parkway. It was $5 too many.

Undaunted, we decided to continue our Weekly Bargain Movie Experiment of 2007. We’re not looking for the best movies. Only the cheapest.

So tonight we hit up the Greentree 10 in Clarksville. The Greentree 10 used to be the area’s premier movie theater, though it’s a now a bargain house showing months-old movies for the nice price of $1.

Sometimes when you see a movie for $1, you have to give up certain comforts, such as the cleanliness of the theater. In that regard, the Greentree 10 has held up much better than expected. We paid our bucks and took our seats, careful to choose which chairs were the least likely to have been used by a) teenagers making babies or b) a murderer. You know how when someone mentions ants, you start to itch? (Some of you might be itching right now.) My brain kept telling me that my seat felt damp, but it wasn’t. I don’t think.

One cool thing they do before the movie begins is to show mini-trailers for films that are just now out on DVD. So it’s like getting a bunch of little trailers before the real trailers. The one for The Pursuit of Happyness even had some interview footage with Will Smith and the gentleman the film was based on. So that was a nice touch. Then came a creepy 1984-esque “Turn off your cellphones” reminder in a cool, robotic female voice that kept repeating. Scary.

And then came the updated version of the old Cinemark pre-movie cartoon with the animated cats. This time the cats are all grown up and on a date. It’s the worst computer animation ever, as they watch flying candy and giant ice cubes that dive into large cups of soda. Truly terrible. I miss the old cartoon with that terrible song — “We’re gonna party, we’re gonna ROCK! Let’s all go to the Cinemark!” And then Daemon would start cackling maniacally. Good times.

And so began Catch and Release. Jennifer Garner’s character, Gray Wheeler, is at her fiancé’s funeral; he died in a boating accident right before the wedding. And her inner monologue is really well written, and Miss Jenny Garner hasn’t lost her ability to wear grief with a bittersweet beauty. I was a big fan of the first two seasons of Alias and was immediately reminded here of how much I love Jenny Garner. We meet her would-have-been-mother-in-law and her late fiancé’s two best friends, one of whom is played by Kevin Smith.

Overwhelmed by the proceedings, Gray hides in the bathroom. She crawls into the bathtub and pulls the curtain. But then another of her husband’s friends, Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), barges in and donks a pretty caterer on the sink, all while a horrified Gray listens on. This should have been our first sign that we were in trouble; Because I Said So began with sex at a wedding, and this one starts off with sex at a funeral. When the deed is done, the caterer goes back to catering and Gray confronts Fritz just as he’s about to light up a post-coital joint. What a spectacular jackass. And of course she ends up with him in the end. (Oh, come on. As if you had any doubt.)

Catch and Release is named after the fishing term of catching a fish and throwing it back into the water instead of keeping it and eating it. In other words, I’m going to catch you, inflict much pain on you, and then throw you away. As the film goes on, this simple little theme gets more and more convoluted before finally applying to the film itself. The tone is all over the place, and pacing is out the window.

Catch and Release is also packed to the gills with “startling” revelations. The fiancé was secretly rich! But he was funneling a fat chunk of cash each month to a mysterious woman in Los Angeles! And the woman is the mother of the fiancé’s love child! And legally, the kid is entitled to be the sole heir of the fiancé’s mystery millions!

The mother is played by Juliette Lewis, who elevates her game with a few sneaky moments of honest-to-goodness sweetness even though she’s playing a typically weird and wacky Juliette Lewis character. (This time she’s a space-age massage therapist.) She has a massage scene with Kevin Smith’s character that might have been funny and even a little bit sweet … if her kid hadn’t been in the room. Come on! Just another example of how the tone of this thing is all over the place. One second it’s trying hard to be funny, the next second it’s sappy and a few times it’s even a little bit creepy.

Unable to afford her rent on her own, Gray moves in with Kevin Smith and the other friend, whose storyline is so lame that it doesn’t even deserve mention. Fritz, needing a place to stay before he goes back to Los Angeles, also moves in temporarily. Gray starts sleeping with Fritz, which doesn’t freak them out nearly as much as it should, not to mention the fact that they’re always doing it on the couch in the middle of the living room and Kevin Smith is always roaming around the house looking for late-night snacks.

I didn’t like Timothy Olyphant’s character in this; he’s the “suffering artist” type, an amateur photographer who directs television commercials. But I did like Timothy Olyphant, who first impressed me a few years ago as a scene-stealing detective in Gone in Sixty Seconds. He definitely elevates the character and does much better work here than the film deserves.

And of course there’s Jennifer Garner, who’s sweet and lovely and, more importantly, accessible in a way that Julia Roberts never really was to me. I was embarrassed for her through most of this movie. She has a few good moments, but so much of the material is just so terrible.

Like this bit, for example. Fritz and Gray have just done it yet again. It’s time for the new lovebirds — he the best friend and she the fiancée of a just-departed man they both loved very much — to have a deep conversation about the nature of their complicated relationship.

Gray: What’s your favorite color?

Fritz: Gray.

Later in the evening Melissa brought up how terrible that line was, and we agreed that the character was probably named “Gray” just for the sake of that line.

Me: I bet her name in the script was originally “Jan,” and they changed it for the sake of that line.

Melissa: At least it worked better than “Who’s your favorite Brady?”

Other things are annoying. Kevin Smith, one of my favorite guys of all time, is so great at the beginning of the movie that you’re watching a true character and not just watching Kevin Smith being Kevin Smith. But before long they’ve got him doing all the typical Kevin Smith things, like calling everybody “sir” and riffing on Star Wars. Come on!

It’s hard to like these characters and it keeps getting harder as the film trudges on. A good example is the resolution of the storyline with Juliette Lewis and the kid. SPOILER ALERT! It turns out the kid isn’t even the late fiancé’s kid. A DNA test is done, proving that the boy’s father had to be someone else. Juliette Lewis immediately says, “Oh, then it was that French guy, Rafael.” Um, okay. So Juliette Lewis had been accepting thousands of dollars a month from this guy without ever questioning the paternity. And as for the late fiancé, you lose even more respect for the guy when you realize that he never cared anything about the child or Juliette Lewis; he was simply throwing money at the problem to keep it quiet, never making any attempt to know the child. (And yes, it’s stated that he never met the child.) You get to the point where you don’t care what happens to any of these people. You just want it to happen, so that you can go home.

What’s the moral of the story here? Don’t catch Catch and Release, because it will keep you for 124 painful minutes before ripping the fish hook out of your face and releasing you on your way.

And so it is. The Weekly Bargain Movie Experiment of 2007 is 0-2, but I have a feeling that’s not going to stop us. Whammy!