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Paula Patton seeks both independence and a man in 'Baggage Claim'

In "Baggage Claim," Paula Patton joins up with playwright and filmmaker Dave E. Talbert, an entirely safer version of Tyler Perry.

Paula Patton (center) travels all over the country to meet exes in "Baggage Claim." Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures Paula Patton (center) travels all over the country to meet exes in "Baggage Claim."
Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

'Baggage Claim'
Director: David E. Talbert
Stars: Paula Patton, Derek Luke
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

Like madman mogul Tyler Perry, David E. Talbert became a phenomenon entirely under the radar of white audiences, helming more than a dozen blockbuster productions on the traveling urban theatre circuit before branching out into movies. But the similarities end there, as Talbert’s is a much saner, mainstream sensibility of more swag and less drag. “Baggage Claim,” which Talbert adapted for the screen from his own 2003 novel, dutifully assembles crowd-pleasing cliches and chick-lit tropes as if following instructions from an IKEA rom-com catalog.

Paula Patton stars as Montana Moore, a flight attendant rapidly advancing into her decrepit early thirties without yet having found a husband. This is no small concern to her mother (Jenifer Lewis), who claims you can’t call yourself a lady unless you’ve got a man. The impending nuptials of Montana’s kid sister provide an arbitrary ticking clock structure, with our heroine giving herself thirty days to settle down and live happily ever after.

The harebrained scheme that follows — aided and abetted by a de rigueur blowsy, oversexed sidekick (a very funny Jill Scott) and contractually obligated gay BFF (sassy Adam Brody) — involves Montana rearranging her work schedule so she’ll “accidentally” bump into her old ex-boyfriends on cross-country flights, checking to see if any of these frogs she’s kissed happen to have turned into princes over the ensuing years.

Of course this is a terrible plan, reminding Montana why she dumped all these dudes in the first place. There’s an amusing turn from Taye Diggs as a black Republican wired too tight, and an odd interlude with millionaire Djimon Hounsou that feels included simply to supply the genre’s required ration of lavish lifestyle porn. Each disastrous encounter inevitably ends with hunky next door neighbor William Wright (Derek Luke) riding in to Montana’s rescue time and again. If there’s any doubt as to where all this is headed, check out his last name.

A statuesque beauty though she may be, Paula Patton has always seemed slightly uncomfortable in her own skin, a sensation amplified here by Talbert’s wobbly direction and often bizarre scene transitions. Paying hypocritical lip service to progressive gender politics, “Baggage Claim” turns out to be one of those movies where the woman gets to deliver a big speech about how she doesn’t need a man in order to define herself, while Mr. Wright is waiting in the wings all the same.

 
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