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Originally published January 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 26, 2007 at 11:22 AM

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Movie review

"Catch and Release" | Garner worth catching in this formulaic film

Jennifer Garner has a bright future as a leading lady in movies with a solid string of roles ("13 Going on 30") and the popular versatility...

Special to The Seattle Times

Jennifer Garner has a bright future as a leading lady in movies with a solid string of roles ("13 Going on 30") and the popular versatility of her "Alias" TV persona behind her. "Catch and Release" probably isn't going to reel in any new fans, but the legion she already has should help this tepid romantic comedy.

There's barely anything new in this well-designed, prettily shot piece of fluff hewn from the realm of tragic-comic romance immemorial. Garner plays the beautiful but desperately sad Gray Wheeler, whose wedding reception has turned into a funeral gathering after the accidental death of an unseen fiancé named Grady. Her weepy voice-over sets up some of the backstory, and it comes and goes throughout to tug at our hearts or make sure we're on top of the lessons she learns.

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Catch and Release," with Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Sam Jaeger, Kevin Smith, Juliette Lewis, Fiona Shaw. Written and directed by Susannah Grant. 124 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some drug use. Several theaters.

The tragic tone quickly turns raucously comic when Gray, hiding from the pitying hordes in an upstairs bathtub, finds herself trapped during a tryst between a sexy caterer and Grady's best friend, Fritz (Timothy Olyphant).

Friend or not, it's immediately established that Fritz is a smug, Hollywood-type jerk. Olyphant is an extremely appealing performer, but his constant smirk and cocky strut never give us a clue why Gray would (inevitably) fall for him so hard, especially so soon after the catastrophe of a lifetime.

In the meantime, an array of other ensemble characters come and go, including Gray's (formerly Grady's) two housemates, Dennis and Sam. Dennis (Sam Jaeger), Grady's partner in a fly-fishing shop (hence the title), is the consummate nice guy who gets screwed out of pretty much everything he wants in life, especially Gray. Sam (Kevin Smith) is around to zing one-liners and be the fat-guy comic relief.

Smith is best known as the director of the "Clerks" films, and he's pretty much hilariously playing himself, wearing his own wardrobe and looking as comfortable as if he were bantering on the couch next to Jay Leno.

There's more tragi-romantic-comic conflict when it turns out Grady had a few secrets: a big bank account and a ditzy Valley Girl girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), who has a bratty 4-year-old (Joshua Friesen) in tow.

The plot elements are crammed in so furiously that it all comes off like a beach-read romance novel. The setting of Boulder, Colo., is pretty as a postcard, and many of the performances are quite good, especially Garner, who has a gift for playing up comic moments. Problem is, the moments change so abruptly that nothing sticks in a believable way.

One thing's for sure, if Smith doesn't get more acting work out of his role, he needs a new agent.

Ted Fry:

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