Baggage Claim: Film Review

Fox Searchlight
Centering on a desperate-to-wed flight attendant, this rom-com gets little mileage from its harebrained premise.

A flight attendant searches for Mr. Right among her exes in a matrimony-minded romp toplined by Paula Patton and Derek Luke.

Sometimes a girl just has to violate a federal regulation or two to land a decent date. Such is the out-there premise of Baggage Claim, which sets a serially single flight attendant on a wacko search for The One. A few smart laughs hint at what might have been, but thanks to sitcom-style mugging and a tepidness beneath the intended hilarity, David E. Talbert’s romantic comedy is stuck in a holding pattern for much of its running time. Even so, the likable cast and escapist proposition should catch box-office bouquets for Fox Searchlight upon the film’s wide release.

When TransAlliance employee Montana (Paula Patton), whose relationships with men “have never been cleared for takeoff,” finds herself cast as maid of honor yet again -- this time for her younger sister (Lauren London) -- she spins into a state of emergency. Amplifying her self-doubt and desperation is her five-times-married mother (Jenifer Lewis), who’s mortified that her oldest child is all of 30 and still without a spouse. The only time she stops harassing Montana and smiles approvingly is when she believes that her daughter has hooked an eligible bachelor.

Eligible, in writer-director Talbert’s scenario, means quantifiable -- expressed in phrases like “seven figures” and “two-carat diamond.” Mildly mocking the school of conspicuous-consumption romance, from the rose-petal-strewn sheets to the capital-c genuine Champagne, Talbert has a bit of visual fun. He poses Montana like a bodice-ripper heroine in the arms of the ultra-hunk (Boris Kodjoe) who seems ready to pop the question on his yacht, American flag in prominent display. But it’s the gentlest of nudges; the movie buys into the cheesiness just a little, evidenced by the way it keeps backpedaling into the land of earnest feel-good bromides.

After the yacht-owning dreamboat turns out to be a heel, Montana’s emergency deepens, kicking off an insane NSA-meets-TSA plan that involves electronically stalking her exes and booking herself on their flights, just in case they’ve transmogrified from cads into husband material. Or at least date-for-the-wedding material.

As fellow flight attendants who are, respectively, the mastermind of the plot and the reluctant co-conspirator, Adam Brody and Jill Scott are fine comic foils who brighten even the tiredest dialogue with ace timing. Their characters, Sam and Gail, wrangle a network of airline and airport employees to pinpoint Montana’s frequent-flyer exes for a frenzied month of second looks. On the home front in Maryland, her childhood friend William (Derek Luke, all down-to-earth warmth), who just so happens to live across the hall with his demanding girlfriend (Christina Milian, trying too hard), provides obvious ballast against the high-flying rat finks Montana is chasing after.

Crisscrossing the country, she submits to one ha-ha indignity after another with a string of smooth-talking bozos. Tremaine Neverson (aka rapper Trey Songz) provides the faux moves as a ridiculous music mogul of sorts, and Taye Diggs is an especially absurd wannabe congressman, whose attachment to a tiny yapping dog named Juicy is the first of several red flags. He’s also the butt of the best line in the movie, well delivered by Patton. On the plus side of the guy ledger, Djimon Hounsou shows up as a suave hotelier who just might be able to offer Montana everything she wants.

Precisely what that is, beyond a husband, is never clear. Patton has a knack for physical comedy, and a charming way with drunk singing, but Montana’s goofy sweetness doesn’t constitute a full-fledged character. The screenplay (based on Talbert’s 2003 novel) has her unhelpfully explaining to William that she wants to be loved, but at film’s end we’re no closer to knowing who she is. A halfhearted sendup of cliched blather about discovering oneself only underscores the lack of a there there.

For a brief period late in the game, the feature gets airborne — the writing, performances and direction in screwball synchronicity. But that breath of spoofy fresh air gives way to flatfooted sappiness to wrap the fairy tale neatly.

The unconvincing shenanigans take place in fittingly movie-perfect settings, with Dina Lipton’s production design, Maya Lieberman’s costumes and Anastas Michos’ cinematography emphasizing the glossy over the lived-in aspects of a story that wants to have its wedding cake and eat it too.

Opens: Sept. 27 (Fox Searchlight)

Production: 260 Degrees, Sneak Preview Entertainment

Cast: Paula Patton, Derek Luke, Taye Diggs, Jill Scott, Boris Kodjoe, Tremaine Neverson, Adam Brody, Jenifer Lewis, Lauren London, Christina Milian, Djimon Hounsou, Ned Beatty

Director: David E. Talbert

Screenwriter: David E. Talbert

Producers: Steven J. Wolfe, David E. Talbert

Executive producer: Lyn Sisson-Talbert

Director of photography: Anastas Michos

Production designer: Dina Lipton

Music: Aaron Zigman

Co-producer: Chris Hazzard

Costume designer: Maya Lieberman

Editor: Troy Takaki

PG-13; 96 min.