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Catch and Release

Amid Tender Sentiments, Smith a Pleasant Surprise

After sitting on the shelf for nine months while Sony downsized its 2006 marketing campaign, Catch and Release has finally landed in theaters, and perhaps the second biggest surprise about the movie, long rumored to be an irredeemable mess, is that it’s merely mediocre. But the movie’s biggest surprise, in more ways than one, is Kevin Smith, whose nuanced performance is far more accomplished than one might expect. Apparently Smith, best known for playing the amiably goofy but dramatically one-note Silent Bob in his own films, has real chops. Who knew?

Give writer and first-time director Susannah Grant, Oscar-nominated for her Erin Brockovich screenplay, credit for a casting gamble that pays dividends. As Sam, one of Gray’s (Jennifer Garner) new roommates after the untimely death of her fiancé, Smith provides moments of emotional honesty and comic relief in a story loaded with sitcom sentiment. Elsewhere, the performances are competent. Garner is typically affable, even if she has yet to make any mark as a leading lady, and Timothy Olyphant, of "Deadwood", is effective as Fritz, the philandering bachelor who needs only the right woman to bring out his inner sweetheart.

The problem is that characters this relentlessly noble rarely exist outside the minds of screenwriters, and the premise of Catch and Release seems more than a little hokey. After Gray’s husband-to-be meets his premature end in a freak skiing accident, she takes solace in the company of his best friends.

However, she discovers some disquieting secrets about her departed lover -- namely, that he sired a child out of wedlock with a massage therapist (Juliette Lewis). And, wouldn’t you guess, she finds herself slowly falling back in love…with Sam of all people! Just kidding, she ends up with Fritz, who’s got just as big a heart but isn’t a threat to break the scales. It’s a fitting end to a story that never really takes any chances, stuffed with weightless melodrama and jokes that only occasionally hit the mark.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars