Fox TV show "PARTY OF FIVE" before segueing such female-centric movies like Disney's animated POCAHONTAS, the revisionist Cinderella tale EVER AFTER, and the Sandra Bullock vehicle 28 DAYS. Grant earned an Academy Award nomination for her script for ERIN BROCKOVICH (although Richard LaGravenese reportedly did some uncredited doctoring). She also adapted Jennifer Weiner's novel IN HER SHOES, which was pleasant enough but suffered from miscasting. Now, Grant has moved up to the director's chair as well with CATCH & RELEASE, a purported romantic comedy that suffers from a lack of tone and from some underdeveloped characters.
The movie is narrated by its heroine Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) and begins on what was supposed to be her wedding day but which is now the funeral of her fiancé, a daredevil-type who died in a skiing accident. As the film unfolds, Gray begins to uncover some things about her dead intended and comes to realize that he wasn't quite the man she thought he was.
Now as this is supposed to be a romantic comedy, there are a few seeming would-be suitors for Gray, all drawn from her dead boyfriend's pool of pals. There's Sam (director Kevin Smith), who has taken to overeating to cope with his grief, Dennis (Sam Jaeger), who decides to honor his fallen pal with a peace garden, and Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), a sort of sleazy yet somehow likeable dude who has been in California trying to jump-start his directing career. If you've ever seen a movie, you will probably figure out for whom Gray falls.
Part of the problem and yet part of the film's charm is that it is messy and untidy, just like real life. There's something surprisingly pleasant in the way Grant navigates the characters through their discoveries. But on the other hand, there are enough subplots and wacky twists to fuel a season of a nighttime soap opera. For instance, there's the dead man's rich snooty mother (portrayed by Fiona Shaw). Then, there's a weird, holistic massage therapist (Juliette Lewis) who turns up out of nowhere for plot purposes.
Garner does her level best to hold the movie together but the script lets her down. I doubt if even Meryl Streep in her prime could have made the mishmash believable, so it's really no fault of Garner's. (Although after ELECTRA and this movie, she might want to have a word with her agents or she'll be fighting Jennifer Aniston and Helen Hunt for the leads in those Lifetime movies.)
For the most part, the other actors do yeoman work. Olyphant has tackled characters like Fritz before, but there's much about him that the audience doesn't learn and it's frustrating. He's more a plot device than a fully rounded person. Jaeger has an understated charm while Shaw is quite good and almost redeems her over-the-top ridiculous turn in last year's fiasco THE BLACK DAHLIA. Lewis, though, has made up to look like a refugee from a third-rate touring company of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, which is something of a shame as she really tries to give her character some depth. The biggest surprise is the strong work of Kevin Smith, who really steals the movie. Although he has appeared in his own movies, Smith is not really considered an "actor" but whether playing a variation of himself or what, he does a wonderful job.
At best, CATCH & RELEASE is an uneven piece. There's a germ of a good idea in there, but it doesn't work on screen. Grant's debut as a director is less than impressive and soon will be consigned to the DVD outlets where perhaps it should have appeared first.
Rating: D+ MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language and some drug use Running time: 111 mins.