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Disaster determines destiny in 'Bounce,' as art imitates real-life love relationship

A film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and ex-beau Ben Affleck should have no trouble at the box office. Considering that the duo's latest big-screen effort together involves an inventive and engaging story line, "Bounce"'s combination of acting ability and a well-thought-out plot is bound to spring to success.

Buddy Amaral (Affleck) is your typical on-the-go advertising agent. Young, successful and, not to mention, extremely good-looking, he is every single girl's dream. Sweet Abby Janello (Paltrow), a real estate broker, is also young, attractive and single. It comes as no surprise then, that the two young professionals inevitably meet, date and eventually fall in love. There's one catch, however - Abby is the recent widow of a plane crash victim. Buddy is the man responsible - though indirectly - for her husband's death.

The story begins in an airport, where Buddy meets Greg Janello, a Los Angeles playwright. Feeling lucky, Buddy opts to take a different flight in order to stay behind with Mimi, a flirtatious blonde who claims to work as an "organ developer." Greg takes Buddy's place on the earlier flight, eager to return home to his wife.

But after coercing an airline employee to substitute his ticket for Greg's original, Buddy's life takes a nosedive when Flight 82 to Los Angeles crashes, killing its passengers in the process, including Janello.

Paltrow, complete with a new, darker hair color, proves her enduring talent in the role of Greg's grief-stricken widow. Although the film's script gives writers little opportunity to develop Greg's character, Paltrow delivers a convincing, heart-wrenching portrayal of the devastation one experiences after a loved one's death.

No one cries better than Paltrow in the first few scenes as the film introduces her character. And after only really meeting Greg for a brief moment, Paltrow's tear-inducing performance makes audiences feel as if they have known him for years.

"Bounce" toys with the idea of destiny and love in the face of loss. While Abby mourns the death of her husband, she lives in a state of denial. Buddy experiences similar emotions. Feeling extremely guilty for his part in Greg's death, he resorts to excessive drinking and becomes very cynical.

When Buddy follows the 12-step program so he can recover from his alcoholism, he takes the program's advice to face his past and finally decides to check up on Abby. In what becomes a futile attempt at telling Abby what really happened, Buddy eventually meets Abby and becomes a part of her post-Greg life.

Interestingly, Paltrow's last stunt as a brunette also involved the examination of one's own fate, following alternate plot lines in order to answer the "what if" question in "Sliding Doors." "Bounce" does this more subtly, but no less cleverly, illustrating the question of humans' ability to control their own destinies via emotional dialogue and honesty in relationships.

Affleck is believably endearing and vulnerable as Buddy, a character who audiences don't know whether or not to hate. In the end, however, Buddy prevails as Abby accepts him, becoming charming as her lover and confidante. Affleck gives dimension to his seemingly flat character. His sincere performance highlights the film's themes of forgiveness and restitution.

This movie is also a success for director Don Roos, who rose to stardom with 1998's "The Opposite of Sex." With "Bounce," he avoids the sophomore slump.

"Bounce"'s premise has the potential to be banal, but its understated hints at larger issues make it truly moving. The realistic take on recovery that "Bounce" throws at the audience proves a thought-provoking cinematic catch.