Badly miscast in a manic comic role, Paula Patton spends most of Baggage Claim scrunching her eyes and grimacing. Her voice continually changes pitch, from smoky low to little-girl high; the muscles of her neck are pulled so tight that her chin seems to be on the verge of caving into her throat. This is the sight of an actor scrambling—and failing—to find a character; Patton, who excels at projecting confidence and cool, can’t seem to get a handle on the movie’s insecure heroine, and overcompensates with broadly cartoonish gestures and facial contortions.
Without a coherent lead performance, all Baggage Claim has left are its generic rom-com plot—which has flight-attendant Patton jetting around the country to meet the perfect man in time for her younger sister’s wedding—and profoundly shoddy production values. Much of the film is taken up with stock aerial and establishing shots, some of which date back to the 1990s; interiors—decorated with every lamp IKEA has on clearance—have their curtains conveniently drawn. Sometimes the movie manages to look cheap in several ways at once, as in a cab ride scene in which the occupants of the car are green-screened against a cityscape that appears to have been sourced from VHS. (It is this Chicago-based publication’s civic duty to also point out that the city is too cold in November to go sailing on Lake Michigan in summer clothes, and that “Chicago O’Hare International Airport” doesn’t feature a hyphen, but does include an apostrophe.)
The script, adapted by writer-director David E. Talbert (First Sunday) from his own novel, trades in generic “be your own woman” platitudes and broad comic clichés; because most of the comedy is predicated on Patton’s anxiety about finding a husband, the empowerment talk ends up ringing false. And yet, despite this, the movie does end up producing a small handful of good laughs, thanks less to Talbert’s writing—which largely recycles the same few gag set-ups over and over—than to a game supporting cast.