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Saturday, March 3, 2001

'BOUNCE'

Gwyneth and Ben's last tango in L.A.


My friend Mari has a dilemma -- she just split up with her boyfriend of three years. They work in the same company, on the same floor, and Mari had hoped it was leading to a church wedding in Tuscany. Instead, it ended after a screaming, 10-hour argument, and with the boyfriend owing Mari a total of 1.5 million yen.

Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow in Don Roos' "Bounce"

Her real problem started last week when they were both assigned to the same project, meaning they will have to rub shoulders with each other for the next six months while colleagues snicker and gossip behind their backs. "Oh boy," says Mari. "Now I know why a lot of companies ban interoffice relationships."

Now, Hollywood has no such compunctions. They discovered long ago that interoffice relationships (so to speak) give a great boost to the box office, if not the relationship. Like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in "Eyes Wide Shut," Cameron Diaz and Matt Dillon in "There's Something About Mary," Jim Carrey and Rene Zelwigger in "Me, Myself & Irene," to name but a few. Not one of these couples is still together.

"Bounce" is the latest interoffice fling, but what sets this one apart from the rest is that protagonists Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck had already broken up and gone to different partners. But when Paltrow got the offer for the part, she displayed what can only be described as a brilliant combination of professionalism and old-times-sake' sentiment by suggesting Affleck to play her lover. Actually, that's an understatement. Affleck plays a guy who falls romantically and desperately in love with her, goes down on his knees and weeps for her. Brilliance, sheer brilliance.

The whole scheme did wonders for the box office, too. In the States, "Bounce" drew audiences like Pooh to honey, and all the talk was about how Ben must love her still -- "You can see it in his eyes!" And about how, in the scenes where they kiss, he frowns as if in love-struck agony over the fact that he's lost her. Lost her forever (to the son of Harry Winston, according to the mags) and this kiss is just screen material, damn it; oh why did I ever let her go?

If at this point "gimme a break" is your main reaction, it is my duty to inform you that there is little to "Bounce" apart from the gimme-a-break factor. The story is almost beside the point as Affleck and Paltrow meet, date in some nifty Armani ensembles, have little tiffs and misunderstandings interspersed by delicious moments of lovey-dovey. The awful voyeuristic pleasure to be derived from all this is that in real life, they were together and now they're not and we get to see how they handle it. This interoffice relationship makes snickering, gossiping colleagues out of us all.

As to the reason it's called "Bounce," it all has to do with bouncing back from grief and tragedy to a happier, brighter whatever. Although I must say that there's bouncing and then there's bouncing. What happens is this: Abby (Paltrow) is a happy housewife in Los Angeles with two young sons and a principled husband, Greg (Tony Goldwyn). Buddy (Affleck) is an L.A. advertising exec, the type who reeks "agent" from his pores and is never off his cellphone.

Buddy flies to Chicago to wrap up a huge airline deal. On his way back, all flights are delayed due to snow and he meets Greg in the airport bar. Discovering that Greg has a family waiting at home, Buddy presents him with his own ticket and takes the opportunity to spend the night in a motel with another stranded passenger (Natasha Henstridge). Two hours later, he wakes up to the news that the plane, which he was scheduled to take, has crashed.

Buddy is left, not only with a huge sense of guilt, but immediate orders to "control the damage" for the airline by coming up with an ad campaign to show how much they "care." In the meantime, Abby must cope with her sudden loss, realign her forces to support her children and control her own damage. Friends tell her "you gotta bounce," and Abby tries her best. Buddy, of course, can't stay away from her and the boys. He has to make sure "they're OK" and wants to help in the bounce process. Help by helping her work, then falling in love, then taking her and the boys for a weekend in Palm Beach and gradually installing himself as the new man in the house.

This is probably morbid, but all my sympathies are with Greg, who only wanted to get home as soon as possible because his son wanted Dad to sell Christmas trees with him at the school bazaar and because Abby was yelling at him to become a more involved father . . . you get the picture. And then he dies, and the guy who gave him the ticket literally steps into his shoes. What a lot of trauma, just to see a pair of ex-lovers come together on screen.

"Bounce" opens today at Togeki Theater in Higashi Ginza and other theaters.


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