The Rebound -- Film Review

A tacky, charmless romantic comedy that saddles two game actors with an inept script and a director just barely going through the motions.

PARIS — Romantic comedies are never easy to pull off, but by any standards Bart Freundlich’s "The Rebound" is a particularly lame stab at the genre. Saddling two game actors with a tone-deaf, charmless script, the film makes recent J.Lo vehicle "The Back-up Plan" look like Billy Wilder in comparison. Poor reviews and word-of-mouth will likely translate into meager box-office returns, despite the presence of glamorous Catherine Zeta-Jones and fresh face Justin Bartha ("The Hangover").

The Rebound has a familiar, but not unpromising starting point: Well-off suburban housewife Sandy (Zeta-Jones) thinks she has a picture-perfect life, until she finds out her husband is cheating. So she packs her kids into the car and heads for New York City. Early scenes are bland but brisk, and Freundlich seems to be setting us up for the potentially enjoyable spectacle of a prissy soccer mom letting her hair down in the Big Apple.

But the film’s tone quickly turns off-key. On one of her first nights in New York, Sandy goes on a blind date from hell with a lothario suffering from explosive diarrhea. Toilet humor can be a hoot when done well (as in certain Farrelly brothers films), but the sequence is so ineptly staged — the sound is so shoddy we can’t even tell what’s going on in that port-o-potty — that the most striking thing on-screen is how distinctly uncomfortable Zeta-Jones looks.

Sandy soon ends up meeting a more gastro-intestinally stable love interest, an affable twenty-something barista named Aram Finkelstein (Bartha), who has been drifting aimlessly from job to job since college. In another awkward touch, Freundlich makes much of the fact that the character is Jewish; in one especially bizarre and unlikely New York moment, Aram’s interviewer for a job looks at his resumé and asks: “Finkelstein … is that a Jewish name?” Oy vey.

When Sandy hires Aram to babysit her children, it’s not long before the two are making out on the couch as the little ones sleep. If it wasn’t clear from the outset that Aram was Mr. Right, we start to get the picture when he succeeds in bonding with the appallingly obnoxious little monsters poor Sandy calls her children.

The relationship between Sandy and Aram is written with an ear for nearly every thematic and stylistic cliché known to May-December romances – and to movie romances in general: from Sandy’s cold feet about going out with a younger man to montages of the two getting to know one another.

This might be less bothersome if The Reboundhit even the most basic dumb comedy marks. But time after time, Freundlich fumbles gags that could potentially have earned at least a guilty throwaway chuckle: a disastrous face massage, a homeless flasher, a projectile-vomiting child. There’s no gusto in the film’s coarseness, or in its love story; it’s at once vulgar and tame, a lackluster blend of saccharine mush and strenuous gross-out humor.

Too bad The Reboundis so tacky because the leads are an offbeat and potentially interesting match. Zeta-Jones is not a natural fit for a plucky romantic heroine; she’s best when regally gnashing her teeth, as in Trafficor Chicago.But her edges are softened here, and she seems comfortable enough playing a kind-hearted control freak. The appealing Bartha, for his part, pulls off the not-insignificant feat of doing a stammering boy-next-door schtick without being too smarmy. But you wish Freundlich had coaxed the actors into a sexier, more prickly chemistry, even if it meant letting Zeta-Jones summon her inner diva to tear hungrily at the pliable young mensch on her plate.

Freundlich has made a small handful of pointless, yuppie comedies (most recently, 2005’s “Trust the Man”), and here he shoots with uninspired professionalism and almost zero sense of play or pleasure. He does stage an unexpectedly sweet final scene in which there’s a hint of genuine romance in the air — something otherwise missing from this unfortunate dud of a date movie.

Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Justin Bartha, Andrew Cherry, Kelly Gould, Lynn Whitfield, Kate Jennings Grant, Rob Kerkovich, Sam Robards, John Schneider, Joanna Gleason, Art Garfunkel
Director/screenwriter: Bart Freundlich
Producers: Tim Perell, Mark Gill, Robert Katz
Executive producers: Neil Sacker, Michael Goguen
Director of photography: Jonathan Freeman
Production designer: Ford Wheeler
Music: Clint Mansell
Costume designer: Melissa Toth
Editor: Christopher Tellefsen
Rated R, 95 minutes