Affleck is Buddy Amaral (amoral?), an advertising hot-shot and all-around jerk who fancies himself Joe Cool in Armani. Nearly snowed in at Chicago's airport after scoring a huge contract, Buddy, who never met a drink he didn't like, is in the mood to party. Meeting a stunning blond in the airport lounge, as well as mild-mannered television writer Greg Janello (Tony Goldwyn), Buddy turns on the charm and downs copious amounts of booze before offering Greg his first class ticket in order to stay behind for a few more hours with the blond. When the plane later crashes, killing all on board, Buddy is so haunted by his brush with death that he tumbles into a well of denial and avoidance that lands him in rehab and later into some serious personal introspection. Tentatively trying out a new, more responsible lifestyle, Buddy is driven to find Greg's widow, Abby (Paltrow), to somehow make amends for remaining alive.Writer/helmer Don Roos, who garnered well-earned kudos for his directoral debut, "The Opposite of Sex," carefully sets up Buddy as the classic successful party boy who has never given much thought to anything or anyone until this startling, unavoidable confrontation with life in the face of so much senseless death (exacerbated by the fact that Buddy's ad agency not only handles the account of the ill-fated plane's airline, but wins an award for its grief-laden campaign to remember the dead). Likewise, Roos' presentation of Abby as a despondent widow just barely pulling herself together enough to continue raising two young sons alone is treated with delicacy and depth, and Paltrow rises to some strong scenes.
Yet the temptation seems to have been too much for Roos to resist succumbing to overplaying the romantic angle. While the blossoming romance is certainly key to Buddy's moral development (should he pass up a chance at real happiness, risking it all by telling Abby who he is?), it takes over the story, pushing aside the darker, more unsettling aspects that these horrific flashes of destiny and fate stir (such as the implications of Abby admitting her grateful feeling that Buddy did not take the flight). "Bounce" clearly wants to be a compelling, ambiguous work, but sacrifices its integrity for a more palatable date-movie tone. Starring Ben Affleck and Gwenyth Paltrow. Directed and written by Don Roos. Produced by Steve Golin and Michael Besman. A Miramax release. Romantic drama. Rated PG-13 for some language and sensuality. Running time: 107 min.