Catch and Release (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Catch and Release is a confused, disjointed motion picture that tries to be many things and succeeds in being none. In less than two hours (although it feels considerably longer), writer/director Susannah Grant cobbles together nearly every imaginable plot, element, and device except the kitchen sink (although she manages to get the bathtub in there). Despite possessing a few effective and affecting scenes, Catch and Release is a mess and the methods it uses to bring closure to its diverse storylines feel trite and contrived. Leaving the theater, I was struck with a sense that the movie not only could have been better, but it should have been so.

Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) is having a nightmare of a wedding day. Instead of walking down the aisle, she is burying her husband-who-would-have-been, who perished during his bachelor party. For Gray, it's a devastating blow that's made worse when she discovers that her beloved was keeping secrets from her, including a child fathered with a massage therapist (Juliette Lewis) in California. Meanwhile, the groom's closest male friends are reacting differently to the death. Sam (Kevin Smith) tries to kill himself. Dennis (Sam Jaeger) throws himself into ensuring Gray's well being. And Fritz (Timothy Olyphant) has casual sex with a caterer at the funeral. Gray's strong dislike of Fritz makes it inevitable that he will become her romantic interest as the film veers off course into perfunctory formulaic romantic comedy territory.

Ostensibly, the main storyline of Catch and Release is about how Gray copes with learning about her fiancé's secrets after his death. Unfortunately, this noble quest spins off a number of less interesting subplots: Sam's relationship with the mother of the dead man's son, Dennis' infatuation with Gray, and the Fritz/Gray coupling. The romantic element is the least effective and the most forced. There's no chemistry between Jennifer Garner and Timothy Olyphant and the romance is never believable. The movie doesn't show us these two falling in love. We're supposed to accept it on faith because they're mismatched, they make goo-goo eyes at each other, and they sleep together. Maybe that 's all the writer/director has time for because she's so busy beefing up all the skeletal subplots that surround this one.

The cast doesn't excel. In the right role, Jennifer Garner can be effective. This is not the right role. She's good while in tears but at no other time could her performance be considered memorable. As a romantic lead, she lacks the spark to ignite a fire. Timothy Olyphant is awful, seeming to believe all that's necessary for his part is to offer a smarmy smile and look like a reject from a Grease casting call. Kevin Smith is adequate sidekick material, although he's on thin ice when the movie requires him to do something dramatic. He's also not as funny as one might expect. And Juliette Lewis is her usual annoying self, appearing in far too many scenes.

Nearly every intended instance of humor fails, indicating that Catch and Release should have been positioned as a straight drama. Whatever her talents, Susannah Grant isn't good with comedy. (This is her feature debut. Her previous credits as a screenwriter include Erin Brockovich and In Her Shoes.) Her cast isn't top notch, but it's unfair to blame them for being unable to do much with her unfocused screenplay. There's little substance and less entertainment value. Good scenes, such as the one in which Gray flees the funeral for a moment of solitude, are more than counterbalanced by sequences that don't work or are embarrassing (Dennis' admission to Gray, the "give back the ring" request, Fritz's overhearing Gray's lie about their relationship). Because so little of it works, the film is disposable. One suspects that since few viewers are likely to catch this movie, its release will be short lived, at least until it makes its way to DVD.

Catch and Release (United States, 2007)

Director: Susannah Grant
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Sam Jaeger, Kevin Smith, Juliette Lewis
Screenplay: Susannah Grant
Cinematography: John Lindley
Music: Tommy Stinson
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:51
U.S. Release Date: 2007-01-26
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1