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Dustin Putman

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Bounce (2000)
3 Stars

Directed by Don Roos
Cast: Ben Affleck, Gwyneth Paltrow, Johnny Galecki, Caroline Aaron, Joe Morton, Natasha Henstridge, Tony Goldwyn, Jennifer Grey, Alex D. Linz, David Paymer.
2000 – 106 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual situations and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 18, 2000.

Director Don Roos' 1998 debut "The Opposite of Sex" was such an acid-tongued, wittily-scripted black comedy that there was no doubt in my mind his sophomore effort, whatever it may be, would be anything less than smart and confidently made. "Bounce" fulfills both of these things and goes a step forward to, as in "The Opposite of Sex," find the poignancy and truth that is required in any intimate relationship. Aided by a memorable supporting cast, and two couldn't-be-better performances from the film's leads, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck, "Bounce" is the sort of romance that doesn't come around too often--intelligent without being saccharine, heartfelt without being condescending.

With the snow heavily falling outside, almost all planes have been canceled at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Passing the time in an airport bar, advertising executive Buddy Amaral (Ben Affleck), headed for his home in Los Angeles, has met up with the beautiful Mimi (Natasha Henstridge), going to Dallas, and kind businessman Greg (Tony Goldwyn) who desperately wants to get home to his wife and children. When Mimi makes it clear that she would like Buddy to spend the night with her, he gives his ticket to Greg (who is also headed for LA, but on a later flight), and slyly convinces the flight attendant at the door (Jennifer Grey), who has an on-again-off-again crush on buddy, to do so. When the plane crashes, killing everyone on board, Buddy (1) can't believe he was going to be on that flight, and (2) crushed that he more or less sent this family man off to die while he could have yet another one-night-stand.

Switch forward one year, Buddy is now a newly recovered alcoholic who has just checked out of the local Drug and Alcohol Recovery Center and is eager to get back to work. In an effort to come to terms with his insecurities and make amends, Buddy tracks down Greg's wife, real estate agent Abby Janello (Gwyneth Paltrow), and attempts to give her a big sale on a patch of property his ad company wants to buy. With Abby, at first, telling Buddy that she is merely divorced, and without Buddy having the guts to disclose his true identity with her, they unexpectedly click and begin to fall for one another.

In lesser hands, "Bounce" would be a romantic drama that is predictable and obvious every step of the way, offering nothing new in the way of plot developments or character motivation. But unlike so many movie romances, "Bounce," scripted by Roos, is based in the scary world of reality, where not everything always turns out as you'd expect, and where the characters seem to be real people, rather than pawns whose only purpose is to fall in love with a mawkish love ballad overscoring each scene. Its expertise in depicting everyday life while setting up an affecting romance is impressive and all too rare in movies nowadays.

Reminiscent in many ways with 1999's Harrison Ford-Kristin Scott Thomas drama "Random Hearts," which had virtually the same setup, "Bounce" is infinitely more successful because it isn't afraid to show its heart, while "Random Hearts," ironically, was cold and emotionally unfeeling. Buddy and Abby are both flawed, yet sympathetic people whom we care about and hope get together, despite the sticky situation they are in.

Since his Oscar win for 1997's "Good Will Hunting," Ben Affleck has skyrocketed to the top of the Hollywood A-list, but in doing so, has chosen far too many duds and not enough financial successes. Either appearing in brainless thrillers like 2000's "Reindeer Games" or trashy blockbusters like 1998's "Armageddon," Affleck has finally returned to the type of emotionally centered motion picture he exceeds in. Affleck may have the build to be an action star, but his sweet-natured features and puppy dog eyes make him far more qualified for character roles that exploit his acting talent, rather than muscles. Here, he has a tough assignment--someone that has made many mistakes in his past and a nasty bout with alcoholism, but is struggling every day to put his life back together and be the best that he can be. This is arguably Affleck's most powerful and distinguished work, to date.

His match in every way, Gwyneth Paltrow (1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley") has proven herself time and time again that she is an extraordinary talent who has a string of successful films and a Best Actress Oscar statuette (for 1998's "Shakespeare in Love") to show for it. Fearless in her portrayal of an average, working-class mother with two young children, Paltrow is fearless in the way she downplays her physical beauty here, and in doing so, is all the more radiant. Every performance choice that Affleck and Paltrow make--every facial expression and line-reading--rings with a resounding honesty that is inordinately refreshing to hear.

Roos' strongest asset, however, lies in the sharp dialogue he pens. Every word counts, and in making what the people say so memorable, has created quite a few good supporting roles, helped along by strong performances from the rest of its cast. With just a few scenes each, such top-flight actors as Natasha Henstridge (2000's "The Whole Nine Yards"), Tony Goldwyn (1990's "Ghost"), and Jennifer Grey (1987's "Dirty Dancing") make a lasting impression that stays with you throughout. Of special notice is Johnny Galecki (who appeared in Roos' "The Opposite of Sex"), as Buddy's confidante and gay assistant, who is so understated and effective that I would love to have seen a whole movie made about his immensely likable and naturalistic character.

Quietly emphatic, "Bounce" is never exactly earthshaking, but exactly the type of motion picture that will have its work cut out for it if it plans on making money. With so many expensive holiday movies being released now, a low-key drama about real people in real relationships is something that not many people will be attracted to, which is a shame. On its side are the wonderful turns by Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, who have enough chemistry to light up the darkness in a giant movie theater. "Bounce" is a truly worthwhile and appealing entertainment that is certainly worth a look, and reestablishes what a fine filmmaker director Don Roos is becoming.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman