By Amy Ryan
Updated January 26, 2007 at 10:06 PM EST

There’s something a little fishy about Catch and Release. Okay, that was a groaner, but no worse than those from several critics who responded to the Jennifer Garner (pictured) romantic comedy with “Throw it back” puns. Yet even reviewers who liked the movie couldn’t help but puncture their praise with sharp mentions of the film’s shortcomings. For instance, The Onion A.V. Club‘s Scott Tobias’ kind words for the “enormously appealing cast” come sandwiched between two mentions of the movie’s “unfortunate sitcom characterization.” The New York Times‘ Stephen Holden finds Catch refreshing for its lack of “whiny princess-mongering” but still finds the film struggling for basic credibility.” And the Christian Science Monitor‘s M.K. Terrell writes, “Viewers may find its mix of pathos and humor loose and lumpy, but then isn’t that how life is?” Why, yes, that is how life is. Also, day-old Cream of Wheat.

For many critics, Garner is upstaged by comic-relief player Kevin Smith; in fact, they seem surprised that Silent Bob can deliver a convincing speaking performance in a film he didn’t write. “Jennifer Garner may possess the hardest working eyebrows in show business, but Kevin Smith gets the acting kudos,” writes the Chicago Reader‘s Andrea Gronvall. “Kevin Smith nearly walks off with the movie as Sam, displaying a surprising range and earning most of the movie’s biggest laughs,” says the Los Angeles Times‘ Kevin Crust. Desson Thomson of the Washington Post doesn’t seem to notice Smith but is definitely not fond of Garner’s performance: “Throughout, she retains a permanent grimace, as if persuasive acting can be achieved by contorting cheek muscles and pouting lips. It’s not just depressing to watch; it’s tiring. We want to tell her to relax — for our own relief.”

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Aren’t these mean reviewers being too harsh on what’s just a basic date movie? Maybe, but the critics suggest Catch falls short of even the confining genre requirements of a chick flick. “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,” writes EW‘s own Lisa Schwarzbaum. “It’s just another romantic comedy, neither terribly bad nor truly great, buoyed along on currents of hope and post-traumatic good cheer,” writes the Austin Chronicle‘s Marc Savlov.

Special mention goes to the New York Post‘s Kyle Smith, who really, really, really doesn’t like the movie and comes up with many colorful ways to say so. “The chick comedy-drama Catch and Release may look bland, but it’s not. It’s worse. To rise to the level of blandness, it would need to have a few gallons of Tabasco dumped into it.” And that’s just the beginning. Read the whole thing for an exercise in hilarious hostility.