- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

It may lack the poignancy and punch of the lascivious serial “Sex and the City” or 2000 indie flick “The Tao of Steve,” but Susannah Grant’s “Catch and Release” similarly tracks a group of attractive, unmarried postcollegiates struggling to make sense of life and love — with mostly desirable results.

The dramedy is the directorial debut for the tenured screenwriter, who earned an Oscar nomination for “Erin Brockovich.”

“Catch” is more lacquered and less gritty than either “Sex” or “Steve.” Nonetheless, Miss Grant manages to deliver some good laughs, some pretty scenery (including the male lead) and some especially fun performances from the supporting cast — particularly Juliette Lewis (who does ditsy better than just about anyone) and Kevin Smith.

Following a tragic fishing accident near their home in Boulder, Colo., Gray Wheeler’s (Jennifer Garner) wedding day morphs into her fiance Grady’s funeral. It’s all so sad, what with everyone mourning amid festive white floral arrangements and a majestic tiered cake. Miss Garner’s expressive lips steal the scene here, as they poof and contort into an excruciating pout.

With no claim to any inheritance, the financially strapped Gray is forced to move in with Grady’s best buddies, Sam (Mr. Smith) and Dennis (Sam Jaeger), who are as supportive of the fragile lady as they are excited to be the beneficiaries of her dazzling array of wedding gifts. (Panini, anyone?)

Fritz (Timothy Olyphant), another of Grady’s cronies and something of a cad, is also crashing at the makeshift hostel, and, initially, he and Gray butt heads. Maybe it has something to do with his having a romantic tryst during Grady’s wake.

As Gray pores over her fiance’s estate, discrepancies in his banking records reveal that Grady was not the man she thought he was; it seems he’d been paying off a lascivious L.A.-based massage therapist (Juliette Lewis) for several years. Not only was he cheating, but he’s got a child by this tramp, too.

As Sam and Dennis cope with losing their buddy in their own ways (drinking/overeating and creating a “peace garden,” respectively), Gray, surprisingly, finds solace — and then some — in the tall, dark and handsome Fritz.

Ahem.

Doesn’t anyone remember the cardinal rule? That no matter how badly someone crosses you, the best friend is off-limits? Geez, the estate isn’t even settled yet.

Unless completely desensitized by the bed-swapping antics of shows like “Flavor of Love,” audiences may ponder this quandary more than the lead characters themselves do.

Plus, despite Mr. Olyphant’s sizzling good looks and the easy air about him (sigh), the chemistry between this leading pair resembles Chem 101 more than a grown-up romance.

Miss Garner’s slightly forgettable performance here leaves room for her co-stars to seize viewer attention. Maybe it’s her character’s fault, though. After all, Sam’s the one with the Celestial Seasonings job — a comedic gold mine.

The writer-director should follow her title’s lead. Now that she’s finished this one, she just needs to let it go and wait for the next one to bite. There will be others, and hopefully, they’ll be worth waiting for.

**1/2

TITLE: “Catch and Release”

RATING: PG-13 (for sexual content, language and some drug use)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Susannah Grant.

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sony.com/catch

andrelease

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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