- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

One and 1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Bounce"

RATING: PG-13 (Fleeting profanity and sexual candor; allusions to airplane fatalities and alcoholism)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Don Roos

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

''Bounce" contracts an irreversible case of the droops after an effectively ominous and grief-stricken opening reel.

Like "Random Hearts," which also seemed at its most effective while killing off loved ones of the principal characters in a fatal air crash, "Bounce" exploits dramatic irony to advantage by slipping us early disaster bulletins.

Three strangers meet at Chicago's O'Hare airport as an approaching storm causes numerous delays. A callow ad executive named Buddy Amaral (Ben Affleck) is in a jubilant mood after closing a big deal. He strikes up conversations with a dish from Dallas named Mimi (Natasha Henstridge) and a family man from Los Angeles named Greg Janello (Tony Goldwyn), a TV writer whose presumably fragile play, "Lilacs in the Dooryard," has been staged, unsuccessfully, by a troupe in Chicago.

Also bound for Los Angeles, Buddy decides to stick around for a one-nighter with Mimi, given a hotel voucher by Greg, who has no intention of using it. Buddy urges Greg to take his seat on an L.A. flight that gets away just before a total shutdown at O'Hare. Neither bothers to inform the airline of this switch, an oversight that later puts a complacent agent named Janice (Jennifer Grey), presumably one of Buddy's conquests from earlier trips, in professional jeopardy.

The plane goes down over Kansas. There are no survivors because it is not a flight with Bruce Willis aboard. Belatedly, Greg's wife, Abby (Gwyneth Paltrow), learns he was one of the victims. A remorseful Buddy goes into a drunken tailspin, at which point the movie's grip on pathos also gets slippery to a fault.

Writer-director Don Roos never recovers from this attack of the staggers. His worst single brainstorm: to give Mr. Affleck a Norman Maine interlude. Like the unfortunate lush of "A Star Is Born," Buddy disgraces himself at an awards ceremony. Buddy shows up unshaven and rumpled as well as drunk and obstreperous.

We lose track of the grieving Abby, who has two little boys, until Buddy returns from rehabilitation out Palm Springs way. That's one of the funniest transitions in film history. You probably don't have to be a big-time screenwriter to master the technique. Joe Morton, cast as Buddy's business partner, Jim Weller, picks him up and begins the conversation, "Now that you're done with rehab … ."

Now that he's been there and done that, Buddy tries to make amends to the Janello family. Sort of at arm's length. He approaches Abby, now a struggling real estate agent, and arranges a commercial property purchase for his own firm, double-crossing good old Jim as a minor detail.

The love affair is so tentative that the continuity gets droopier by the episode, but Buddy gradually yields to his feeling for Abby, now prepared for post-traumatic romantic regeneration.

They eventually become lovers and prospective newlyweds, but they must weather a big crisis when Mimi shows up out of the blue with incriminating reminders of the chance meeting on crash night.

It may have been a strategic blunder to cast Miss Paltrow and Mr. Affleck as a slow-to-ignite love match. Knowing they were off-screen sweethearts for a season or fortnight or something and that they remain good friends, one grows rather impatient with Mr. Roos' pokey awakening.

You begin to suspect that these co-stars might be more effective playing people who already knew each other and shared terms of familiarity that could get the movie jump-started sometime before the holidays.

Buddy also may remain more of a disgrace than the tear-jerking context can accommodate. Not so much for deceiving Abby, because it's understood that the plot requires a grotesque preamble, but for leaving poor Janice in the lurch and evidently forgetting about the consequences.

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