Oscar Short Showcase Squares Off With Bounty Hunter 

Hollywood vs. Hollywood

I saw 14 films this weekend. Thirteen of them were not a waste of time. Unfortunately, the intelligence-offending exception, The Bounty Hunter, is the only film most audiences will ever hear about. The remaining baker's dozen, each part of the Oscar Nominated Short Films showcase, will likely be buried in DVD extras and YouTube clips, while The Bounty Hunter, one of this week's box-office leaders, should be buried in an unmarked grave.

The Bounty Hunter is the story of ex-cop Milo (Gerard Butler), a man who is in a bad way. Slovenly, sardonic and blind to his own substantial failings, he revels in destructive chases as a bail enforcement agent, aka a bounty hunter. His former wife Nicole (Jennifer Aniston) is a low-level reporter who may have found her big story, but when she skips a court date to pursue an important lead, Milo is assigned to bring her to justice--a prospect that has him literally skipping in mischievous glee. And thus begins one of the least interesting "chase her 'til she catches him" capers ever committed to film.

What begins as a funny premise becomes a tired string of cliched subplots and anemic attempts to rekindle the pair's relationship. Without the charismatic disguise of his native accent, Scotsman Butler proves a poor leading man, his childish and bullheaded take on Milo convincingly communicating why Nicole left him. Aniston fares better, her sitcom-honed timing and charm carrying her part, but neither are given more than a few chuckle-inducing lines, and we're never given enough history to quite discover what first sparked their love.

To be fair, Butler and Aniston fall victim to a crippling cinema curse, the trifecta of terrible production. Saddle hit-and-miss director Andy Tennant (Fool's Gold, 2008) with a script by still-sophomore-slumping screenwriter Sarah Thorp (Twisted, 2004), lob in the culturally fatuous talents of producer Neil H. Moritz (Urban Legend, 1998), and it's no surprise that a trite, interminable vortex of vacuousness forms at the center of this film. There's no convincing romance and little comedy to justify The Bounty Hunter's inclusion in the "rom-com" genre.

Whereas a film such as The Bounty Hunter takes a single interesting idea and flogs it for 106 minutes, the Oscar Nominated Shorts showcase, playing through Thursday, March 25, at The Flicks, demonstrates the brilliance of exploring a unique theme, then quitting while you're ahead. With two different screenings, an animated exhibition of seven films ranging from Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (Ireland, six minutes)--a sweet-and-sour retelling of the classic fairy tale--to the Wallace and Gromit bakery thriller A Matter of Loaf and Death (United Kingdom, 30 minutes), or the harder-hitting live-action showcase featuring a merrily macabre moving day in The New Tenants (United States, 20 minutes) and sobering slavery short Kavi (India, 18 minutes), there's more exuberance, genuine laughter and plain-speaking poignancy in each short slice than in most feature films' padded running time.

It's an unfortunate truth that these films, unlike their full-length counterparts, rarely are seen after this brief post-Oscar timeframe. Thirteen smart ideas delivered with swift, precise execution trump an amusing idea with big-name stars served with snail-like dispatch, so treat yourself to a meatier sampling while you still can.

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