Sometimes it seems as though Harvey Weinstein owns the rights to anything Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck do in films, and no doubt he will push their new film "Bounce" for every possible Oscar nomination he can squeeze out; in a film year as bad as this one he just may end up with a basketful.
But the film, written and directed by Don Roos, whose dry, mordant comedy "The Opposite of Sex" was an independent mini-hit two years ago, has lost every bit of bite in its attempt to unite our two leading young actors. "Bounce" sets up its story in O'Hare airport one snowy night, when flights are cancelled by the dozen, and two men on their way home to Los Angeles meet in an airport bar. Buddy Amaral (Affleck) is a hot L.A. advertising man who's just landed the Infinity Airlines account. He gives Greg Janello (Tony Goldwyn) his ticket so he can stay the night with a hot Dallas businesswoman and come home the next day. The plane crashes, Greg is dead, Buddy loses control over his drinking, checks into rehab, and we cut to a year later when Buddy makes a bumbling contact with Greg's widow Abby (Paltrow), to try and make some kind of atonement for what he feels is the loss he's caused her and her two young sons.
Now begins Part II, which you feel should be written in capital letters on the screen, because from this point on we can only wait for the big clinch at the end, which doesn't come for more than an hour. What's the big holdup? Mainly it's that Buddy won't come clean and tell Abby his part in the tragedy. Why not? After all, he didn't cause the crash, and was only being a nice guy to a stranger in a situation that had a horrendous outcome. But that's the question Roos's script is unable to handle. Realistically, and even dramatically, the better approach would have been for his people to face facts, get the tragedy into a believable but not overwhelming niche in their lives, and then try to build something out of a relationship between two incomplete, awkward, struggling souls.
Instead he makes us wait forever for the other shoe to drop. Buddy must testify at the lawsuit against the airline, and not reveal his part until he's on the witness stand -- something we have known about since the first five minutes of the film. Abby must pretend to be divorced and not widowed, for reasons I'm still not certain I understand, and Buddy must not tell her that he knows she's just lying. Give me a break.
Paltrow is, once again, an amazing actress, who can find depth in the shallowest script and make us believe her character is a real human being. Affleck, no doubt cast because of his box office appeal (and his reported relationship with Paltrow), is not a deep actor. He can barely squeeze out a tear when it's called for, and there's a deadly monotony in his voice, a too-narrow range of inflections, that undercuts any attempt at emotion. The supporting actors, particularly Joe Morton as Buddy's partner and boss, and Johnny Galecki as Buddy's outspoken assistant, are terrific, and a mark of the film's problems is that we keep wishing they had more screen time. All in all, the film is strongest around the edges and weakest at its core.
I don't usually pick on titles, but "Bounce" seems to have come as a last-minute insertion after too many studio conferences couldn't figure out what to call the film. It shows up in the movie near the end as a throwaway line that no doubt was written to give the word some context. Pay no attention.