By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated January 24, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Catch and Release, Jennifer Garner, ...
Credit: Doug Curran

Catch and Release tells of Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner), a young woman whose fiancé dies right before their marriage. In fact, the neat, unspecified demise-by-manly-accident, with its luxurious romantic pathos, is announced in Gray’s voice-over in the first scene, a wedding that turns into a funeral. Of course, such a setup itself doesn’t necessarily have to skew chick-y. Given the movie’s androgynous, fishing-oriented title and the heroine’s androgynous, freshwater species of a name, the story could theoretically develop into a muscular drama about a competitive fly-casting tournament hosted by his buddies in the dead man’s memory, during which the grieving almost-bride honors her late beloved by gutting trout on a riverbank. Voilà, a real guys’ pic!

But skew chick-y it does. I just don’t know any chick who will make sense of this flick — it’s that blitheringly out of touch with present psychosexual (never mind feminist) time and space. And it’s not enough to blame the movie’s happy, shiny, blue-skies Boulder, Colo., setting for the thin atmosphere. As writer Susannah Grant (In Her Shoes, Erin Brockovich) lays it out in her feature-directing debut, Gray deals with her grief by moving into a funky Boulder cottage with her late beloved’s best friends. She learns some surprising and dismaying things about the man she thought she knew. (The non-plot-spoiling news is that he was secretly rich, and highbred enough to have a mother played by the commanding Irish stage star Fiona Shaw, Harry Potter‘s Aunt Petunia Dursley herself.) And then Gray finds new romantic happiness. I won’t say who the unlikely candidate is except to point out that the movie also stars Deadwood‘s Timothy Olyphant as Fritz, a slick, babe-getting, Malibu-lifestyle-loving friend of the deceased’s who becomes less interestingly oily and more dully ”suitable” the longer he’s around Gray’s deep dimples.

With so much meaningless romantic-comedy seaweed caught in Catch and Release‘s narrative net, it’s useless to sift through for clarity. Gray’s new, love-’em-like-brothers roommates include one perfectly decent type (TV-weight cute guy Sam Jaeger) who’s pined for her for years, and one perfectly slackery, infantile, Silent Bob-ish layabout (Silent Bob himself, Kevin Smith) who drinks too much, eats too much, and sounds exactly like Kevin Smith. Why does a grieving adult woman move in with such lost boys? Why is Fritz so slippery an eel? Who is this curiously uninquisitive Gray, anyway, who knew so little of the man she was ready to marry after being with him so many years? And Kevin Smith? Really??

I’d also ask what Juliette Lewis was doing playing a trampy thing pitched somewhere between a small-town floozy and a New Age kook except that it’s a shame to look a gift ditz in the mouth. Lewis’ characteristically piquant participation may be all wrong for the picture. But at least her girl’s not a dead fish like Gray.

Catch and Release

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 111 minutes
  • Susannah Grant