Tag Archives: B

BOUNCE

Whatever relationship Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow might have off-screen–and it seems a rather coy, on-again, off-again thing–they work together remarkably well in “Bounce,” the sophomore feature from Don Roos. The writer-director’s first film, “The Opposite of Sex,” was widely praised, but it struck me as contrived and precious. This new effort is also contrived plotwise, but for the most part it’s presented in so naturalistic and restrained a style that one is willing to set aside the narrative lapses and respond favorably toward its straightforward warmth. And a big part of its success is the expert work done by the leads, who seem to have benefited from the helmer’s unforced approach.

The story is one which, in less skilled hands, could have turned into a maudlin tearjerker. Affleck plays Buddy Amaral, a cocky ad exec stuck in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport right before Christmas. Deciding at the last moment to lay over and spend an evening with a pretty passenger named Mimi (Natasha Henstridge), he gives his ticket to Greg Janello (Tony Goldwyn), a writer whom he’s met at the bar and who’s anxious to get home to his family in L.A. rather than wait for a flight the next morning. When the plane crashes and Greg is killed, Buddy, feeling responsible, seeks out Greg’s widow Abby (Paltrow) and tries to help her out financially without revealing who is is. Of course a romance ensues, and the crux of the matter is whether Buddy will come clean and, if so, whether Abby can overlook his involvement in her husband’s death.

This is basically a soap opera story, but as played it’s remarkably assured and unexaggerated for most of the running-time. There are a few missteps along the way. An awards ceremony in which an increasingly unhinged Buddy loses it is too over-the-top for comfort. And a couple of elaborate twists near the close, involving a video tape and a trial, might have seemed a good idea of how to wrap things up but prove a poor contrast to the simplicity that makes the rest work so nicely. What saves the picture despite these problems are the stars. Affleck, who’s appeared stiff and uncomfortable in virtually all his lead turns since “Chasing Amy,” manages to be fairly relaxed and likable here; he even pulls off most of his more melodramatic mements. Paltrow, with hair darker than we’re accustomed to, is credibly vulnerable and uncertain as Abby; it’s not as showy a part as Affleck’s, but she complements him nicely. This is essentially a two-character drama, and the supporting figures are mostly functional types to whom even fine performers like Joe Morton (as Buddy’s partner) or David Paymer (as an attorney) can’t bring much life. But there are exceptions: Johnny Galecki proves an adept scene-stealer as Buddy’s knowing, catty assistant Seth, and Alex D. Linz is affecting as Abby’s troubled older son Scott.

People will be disappointed with “Bounce” if they go into it with the wrong expectations. It certainly isn’t a light romantic comedy of the kind that its title and star coupling might suggest. Nor is it a “big” picture technically: though it hinges on a tragic plane crash, you won’t find any effects sequences of the kind that marked 1993’s “Fearless” or even the recent teen thriller “Final Destination.” But if you’re willing to accept it on its own relatively modest terms, you should find it a commendably restrained, mostly intelligent drama providing a good showcase for its two personable young stars.

MEET THE PARENTS

There’s a good deal of 1979’s hilarious farce “The In-Laws” in “Meet the Parents,” and though neither Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg’s script nor Jay Roach’s direction quite matches the work of Andrew Bergman or Arthur Hiller in the earlier flick, the new picture contains enough belly-laughs and sly jokes to become one of the bigger crowd-pleasers of the fall. It also has Ben Stiller, doing the befuddled shtick that served him so well in “There’s Something About Mary,” and Robert De Niro, proving, after his disastrous turn in “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,” that the comic timing he showed in “Analyze This” hasn’t permanently deserted him.

“Parents” is essentially a comedy of frustration, akin to the scripts that John Hughes devised for the original “Vacation” and then “Planes Trains and Automobiles”–or, on a far more exalted level, that of W.C. Fields for the incomparable 1934 “It’s a Gift”. (There’s even a very funny airport sequence, involving Kali Rocha as a snotty attendant, that would have been perfect in “Planes.”) The central character is a poor schmo named Greg Focker (his surname, with its attendant invitation to mispronunciation, will give you some notion of the juvenile quality of much of the humor). A male nurse besotted with beauteous Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo), a Chicago schoolteacher, he travels back east to meet her family, headed by stern, secretive Jack (Robert De Niro). It will come as no surprise that the bumbling Focker encounters (or creates) disaster after disaster in trying to induce Jack to give his blessing to Greg’s marriage proposal; nor will it shock anybody to learn that, despite all the problems, things turn out just fine. (This is a comedy, after all.)

There isn’t much subtlety to the writing or helming here–when, for instance, an urn prominently displayed in the Pryce dining room is identified as holding the ashes of Jack’s beloved mother and Greg then proceeds to pop the cork from a bottle of champagne, it’s obvious what’s going to happen, and Roach stages the scene with TV-sitcom directness. But the sequence still generates the intended laughs, thanks to Stiller’s boyish ineptitude and De Niro’s dyspeptic demeanor; and many other similarly telegraphed moments still hit their targets, thanks to the stars. The revelation of Jack’s employment history doesn’t have the exuberance or cleverness that Bergman bestowed on Peter Falk’s career in “The In-Laws” (to tell you the truth, the shambling Falk milked more fun from his role than De Niro does here), and the cuminating confrontation between the two men is a bit flat, but by the time the movie’s over most audience members will still be chortling contentedly. And that’s what counts.

In what’s essentially a two-character piece, the supporting cast generally has little to do–fluttery Blythe Danner is barely noticeable as Byrnes’ spouse, and Teri Polo pretty anonymous as Focker’s squeeze. There’s frankly nobody here who adds spice to the Alphonse-and-Gaston routine that Stiller and De Niro are playing in the way that crazed autocrat Richard Libertini did to Falk and Alan Alan’s softshoe in “The In-Laws”–presumably that’s what Owen Wilson is supposed to provide as Pam’s eccentric ex-boyfriend, but though he’s amiably goofy in his usual low-key way, he doesn’t really add much to the comic mix. (Certainly more could have been made of Jon Abrahams as Pam’s dippy brother Denny, too.) Happily Stiller and De Niro work well enough together that one tends to forgive the thinness of the concept and execution, and they’re aided by at least one other cast member who outdoes himself–a cat named Mr. Jinx who’s beloved of Pryce and manages to make Focker’s stay as miserable as possible. This feline is a true scene-stealer, and it’s no wonder that it took three Himalayans to play him.

“Meet the Parents” is hardly a comic masterpiece–indeed, one wouldn’t expect one from a writer (Herzfeld) who penned 1998’s lamentable “Meet the Deedles.” But like “The Replacements” earlier this year, it generates a surprisingly large number of laughs from a shopworn premise, and most viewers will find it uproarious despite its weaknesses.