It’s nice to encounter a mainstream romantic comedy with an African-American ensemble. But it would have been better for all concerned if “Baggage Claim” had been consigned to that limbo where lost luggage winds up, never to be heard from again.
David E. Talbert’s adaptation of his novel centers on Montana Moore (Paula Patton), a flight attendant who’s been a bridesmaid entirely too often and is being pressured by her pushy, often-wed mother (emphatic Jenifer Lewis) to find a man before the wedding of her youngest sister (Lauren London). Montana decides to get engaged within a month, and when her current prospect Graham (Boris Kodjoe) proves not to be a keeper, she begins an incessant search for a better prospect, unwisely taking advice from her in-air buddies hedonistic Gail (Jill Scott, exceptionally well-endowed physically but abrasively unfunny) and swishy Sam (Adam Brody, overdoing the gay friend stereotype). Their plan is to use the airline’s booking information to determine when Montana’s past boyfriends are scheduled to fly so that she can rush onto those flights and encounter them, supposedly by accident, in order to rekindle what might now be the real thing.
This numbskull scenario is played out with all the inanity one would expect. The problems begin when Graham invites Montana to accompany him on a Thanksgiving trip to Chicago, where she finds that he’s two-timing her. It’s bad enough that the sequence in which, on Gail’s long-distance advice, she follows him is terribly staged, requiring her actually to hide inside a garbage can at one point. But even before that, the most rudimentary credibility—which even a romantic comedy needs—has been totally shattered when Graham takes her on his yacht around Lake Michigan, in shirtsleeves on a late November day in Illinois! Anyone who’s ever been in the Windy City at that time of year knows that earmuffs, fur-lined coats and stocking caps would be more appropriate attire.
As goofy as that whole Chicago episode is, things get worse with the next candidate, hip-hop star Damon Diesel (Trey Songz, under his real name Tremaine Neverson), and then collapse into complete awfulness with a long, gruesomely laugh-free segment featuring Taye Diggs as Langston Jefferson Battle III, a smiling jerk who’s running for Congress as a Libertarian Republican and drags her along as a prop to a dinner meeting with a potential contributor (Ned Beatty, chewing the scenery mercilessly). The fourth possibility is hotelier Quinton Jamison (Djimon Hounsou), who’s rich and charming but proves interested only in a pleasant companion on his round-the-world trips, not a wife.
These tedious encounters—punctuated by airport footage as Montana frantically tries to get to the necessary flights (some of it used repeatedly, especially a shot in which a dour Japanese man is beside her)—are made all the more ridiculous by the fact that the obvious choice lives right down the hall from her. He’s literally named Mr. Wright (Derek Luke), Montana’s childhood buddy who as a kid offered to marry her and now drops by whenever she needs a hug or some bucking-up. To be sure, Talbert attempts to throw a wrench into the works by giving him a perky live-in girlfriend named Taylor (Christina Milian), but that obstacle is removed by a simple, though rather nasty, narrative expedient, and the preordained finale (which, of course, requires Montana to rush to the airport to catch him before he boards a plane bound for Paris and for her buddies to resort to dumb comic antics in an effort to delay his departure) arrives on schedule. As if that’s not bad enough, a dismal postscript involving Gail and Sam ends the picture on a sour note.
“Baggage Claim” looks good, and not merely because Patton is an attractive woman (though her mugging does her no favors). The technical work is proficient, from Anastas Michos’ cinematography to Dina Lipton’s production design, Bo Johnson’s art direction, Ryan Welsch’s set decoration and Maya Lieberman’s costume design, making for a glossy package. But most of the acting is either way over the top (Lewis, Scott, Diggs, Brody, Beatty) or utterly bland (Luke, Hounsou, Kodjoe), and that makes the backdrops irrelevant.
The title, incidentally, is based on the idea that male passengers can be categorized as marriage prospects on the basis of their luggage. Perhaps that’s an appropriate means of assessing movies, too—in which case this one might be characterized as a well-worn bag that’s been lugged around the block entirely too many times.