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Friday November 17, 2000

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'Bounce' lacks spring

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By Phil Leckman

Arizona Daily Wildcat

New film plays it too safe

For most American audiences, movies are about escapism. Oh, there are certainly those fans who love the movies as art and get short of breath at the camera tricks of a skillful director, or a screenplay that lays bare the darkest reaches of the human soul. After all, someone has to fill the seats at film school.

What most moviegoers want, though, is simple entertainment - an attractive hero, a few thrills and the promise of redemption and reconciliation before the credits roll.

"Bounce" writer/director Don Roos's first film, "The Opposite of Sex," succeeded by poking fun at precisely these comfortable cinematic conventions. Its cocky heroine's first lines proclaimed that "Sex" is not a film where each character is revealed to have a heart of gold and all loose ends are tied up by the final reel. Ultimately, of course, this is exactly what happened - each character got what they wanted and walked happily into the celluloid sunset. But "Sex"'s self-aware manipulation of viewer expectations kept audiences on their toes and left them guessing who would come out ahead in the end.

Given the well-deserved acclaim Roos received for "Sex"'s ironic send-up of movie conventions, it is both a surprise and a bit of a disappointment that "Bounce," his first big-studio feature, wholeheartedly embraces these clichˇs. Unlike its predecessor, "Bounce," a romance starring Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, gives audiences exactly what they expect.

"Bounce" takes place in sunny Southern California, in that familiar Hollywood fantasy land where everyone drives a nice car, lives in a perfectly decorated home and, despite having the perfect challenging-yet-fulfilling job, is still able to drop everything for a mid-day drink at a stylish bistro.

To be sure, the characters have their problems - Paltrow plays Abby Janello, a new widow, while Affleck's Buddy, a successful ad executive, is an ex-drunk who is indirectly responsible for Abby's husband's death in a plane crash. But it is clear from the moment the pair have their first awkward-yet-funny meeting in a strip mall that these obstacles will ultimately do little to stand in their way.

It would be bad form to reveal the film's conclusion, but no one who has seen an American romantic comedy in the last 10 years will be surprised by where "Bounce" ends up. All the typical features of the genre are on display, from the magical first date and tentative first kiss to the hidden secrets, tearful confessions and earnest apologies.

But Roos goes no deeper than these familiar conventions. The characters are unambiguous and uncomplicated, even in their darkest moments. Affleck may drink and lie, but the audience never doubts that he is a really good guy underneath. And this basic goodness extends to the film's entire cast of stock characters, from Paltrow's cute-as-a-button kids to Affleck's catty gay assistant with a heart of gold.

Of course, a filmmaker could do far worse than a feel-good romance between appealing characters. And "Bounce" has its share of good parts. The chemistry between former real-life lovers Affleck and Paltrow, for instance, is palpable and believable. There is some good dialogue and even a few halfway-profound observations about mortality, grief and guilt.

For a first-time director, this would be an achievement. For a filmmaker of Roos's caliber, however, "Bounce" seems strangely unambitious. By settling for the typical and the ordinary, Roos fails to meet the high standards he set for himself with his witty, imaginative debut. "Bounce" is a light, pleasant confection, but it leaves fans of Roos's other work starved for something more filling.