[Screen It]

(2007) (Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant) (PG-13)

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Dramedy: A woman slowly rediscovers herself following her fiancÚ's unexpected death right before their wedding.
It was supposed to be a happy time for Gray Wheeler (JENNIFER GARNER), but her life has been shattered following the unexpected death of her fiancÚ, Brady Douglas, right before their wedding. Now, she's spending time with his friends, herbal tea company employee Sam (KEVIN SMITH), fishing shop owner Dennis (SAM JAEGER), and L.A. film director Fritz (TIMOTHY OLYPHANT).

She isn't crazy about the latter (having accidentally witnessed him in a casual sex encounter at his late friend's wake), but spends time around him while going through Brady's things. It's then that she discovers that not only was her late boyfriend rich, but also had a secret cell phone upon which a woman has left repeated messages wanting her money from him.

Gray soon learns that's California masseuse Maureen (JULIETTE LEWIS) who's arrived in town with her 3-year-old son Mattie (JOSHUA FRIESEN), a boy she claims Brady fathered, an allegation that Fritz reluctantly confirms. As she deals with that as well as the callous reaction of Brady's mother, Ellen (FIONA SHAW), Gray unexpectedly ends up falling for Fritz. From that point on, she must decide how to handle all of these unexpected and shocking developments.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Allegories and such informative and/or cautionary tales have been around since the beginning of time. While today's storytelling isn't as concerned with such messages as in the days of old, from time to time one can still find vestiges of them, or at least label new tales with those old but familiar sayings.

In "Catch and Release," screenwriter Susannah Grant's first foray behind the camera, there's the one about teaching a man to fish equaling feeding him for a lifetime (as compared to giving him a fish that's only good for one meal). It's the obvious connection to the film's fly-fishing story elements, but also the symbolic relation between learning to fish and learning to live one's life (which sometimes necessitates releasing romantic catches, etc.).

Two underlying sayings, however, dominate this bittersweet tale of rediscovering oneself under the most trying of circumstances. The first is the old saying about that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, while the second is the one about letting sleeping dogs lie.

When looking at Grant's track record, it's easy to see she's drawn to movies with messages, whether they're romantically goofy about self image ("Ever After"), overcoming addiction ("28 Days"), learning to accept others for who and what they are ("Charlotte's Web") or about doing the right thing for the betterment of others ("Erin Brockovich).

Here, Jennifer Garner (who can infuse movies good and bad with plenty of appeal) plays a young woman whose life has been turned upside down, viciously shaken, and then tossed aside when her fiancÚ unexpectedly dies right before their wedding. She must then contend with his obvious absence, as well as thoughts and longings for her wedding and marriage that now will never be.

But as she's going through his things and dealing with his friends -- Kevin Smith, Sam Jaeger and Timothy Olyphant -- and their reactions to what's occurred, she not only finds her late boyfriend had a secret bank account with the monthly withdrawals, but also an equally covert cell phone on which a woman demands her money.

Like most anyone else in the same situation, she can't resist the temptation to poke, prod at, and eventually awaken that proverbial sleeping mutt (in trying to find out what's really going on), an act that will forever change how she looks at her late fiancÚ, his friends and herself.

Considering the death, the discovery of betrayal, depression among many, and even a suicide attempt by one in direct response to that, one might think this is quite a downer of a movie. For better or worse, Grant doesn't want to keep us forever in that dark and dank alley of despair, so she infuses most of the proceedings with all sorts of comedic touches. Examples include a casual sexual encounter at a wake where the woman repeatedly uses a term from the old TV comedy show "Laugh In," while another has everyone reacting to the "healthy" but unappetizing meal prepared by a "Chi" devotee.

Some of that works and some doesn't, and most stems from the dialogue peppered with the sort of dialogue usually heard in romantic comedies. Speaking of which, the filmmaker can't resist the temptation to throw that genre into them mix as well, but that's probably the least successful element. And that's mainly because having Garner's character fall for the above "Sock it to me" recipient (Timothy Olyphant) simply isn't believable, although it's certainly about as predictable as they come.

Considering his character's sexual fling, the fact that he was best friends with the deceased, and the actor's tendency to sneer in a creepy fashion whenever he smiles or looks concerned, one would think the grieving protagonist would have run the other way from him. Since this is about personal growth, however, she must take a ride through his life in order to facilitate that. Even so, it just doesn't work and it certainly isn't pleasing for the viewer (which also holds true for the genre's requirement of musical montages of which there are so many I eventually lost count).

Aside from Juliette Lewis who must contend with large swings in the way in which her character has been written, the performances are generally okay with Smith probably coming off the best, even if he's doing something along the lines of his usual shtick (the parts showing his character's budding fatherly tendencies are probably the most satisfying).

Along with that, there are moments that are funny, touching and even moving. But they exist within a pedestrian script that feels like it's been assembled from any number of predecessors and thus doesn't seem terribly interesting or feel that novel. While I wasn't expecting much, "Catch and Release" didn't have me falling for it hook, line, or sinker. It rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 22, 2007 / Posted January 26, 2007

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