'Catch and Release'

In the small pantheon of successful women screenwriters, Susannah Grant is aristocracy. But the muscular dialogue that fed so many great lines to Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich and Cameron Diaz in In Her Shoes goes AWOL in Grant's directing debut, a slack dramedy about a young woman (Jennifer Garner) whose grief for her dead fiancé is assuaged not by the usual band of earth mothers, but by his three buddies, each of whom suffers in his own strenuously odd way. This mildly fresh premise never takes off, in part because Grant flashes most of her emotional cards in the first half-hour, leaving all the characters to rot in underdeveloped eccentricity. Garner is no more than serviceable as the tightly wound Gray, unwinding in the arms of her fiancé's lothario friend Fritz, very badly played by Timothy Olyphant (a disconcerting cross between Billy Zane and Sir Cliff Richard with a lot invested in grating raffish charm). Kevin Smith is the good-hearted Fat Friend who stops gabbing only when he's scarfing down left-over pizza, while Juliette Lewis salvages what scraps she can from her role as a new age L.A. ditz. Revelations pile up, followed by insight and maturity, and pretty soon there's nothing left to do but go fishing in scenic Colorado and be really, really nice to your friends.

 
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