During the first 20 minutes of Baggage Claim, it dawned on me: if you’re up for this movie, you’ll have a mostly good time. This is simple enough, until mid-film, when the story starts to lose its way. An hour in the film hits turbulence, keeping us in a holding pattern that’s not nearly as fun or energetic as it initially promises to be. It’s apparent who is the perfect man for our leading lady, Montana Moore, a flight attendant played by Paula Patton.

The fear many women face is that they will all eventually turn into their mothers, but Montana is a bit of a paradox, and is played with the complexity she demands. On one hand this is could be an inspirational film for African American teenage girls; there are so few role models on screen and Montana is, for the most part, a strong independent women, but, on the other hand, she isn’t. The film dangerously wants to have it both ways with two endings — like Montana it doesn’t quite know what it wants.

Patton plays her with the right mix of complexity and levity required, in a role that in a Caucasian-centric Hollywood might otherwise might be perfect for Kristen Wiig. It’s a shame writer/director David E. Talbert reverts into clichés instead of further probing and developing Montana; she goes on an emotional journey, I’m not sure we join her. The plot is pure sitcom with a leading lady that, instead of getting suckered into a plot that has too little pay off, should be more like the hero of a Nicole Holofcener film, with the anxieties of documentarian Nina Davenport.

The problem is while the first 20 minutes promises a sitcom, the story quickly loses its way. The huge problem is Montana, despite a revelation that is typical in these kinds of movies, she learns something about herself, but the journey isn’t quite as rich. The other problem is the film, likely restricted by budget and mostly shot in Los Angeles, features too little of each city Montana travels to during her silly quest.

The plot is simple enough: Montana is about to turn 30, her mom (Jenifer Lewis) has been married five times and her little sister (Lauren London), still in college, is engaged. Montana has 30 days to find the perfect man and get him to propose (really, do people move this quickly?) because she can’t let her little sister have all the fun. This all seems a little sick to me, but let’s just go with it, helped by the fact the story has a few smart one-liners early on.

Jill Scott and Adam Brody play Montana’s co-workers, who have some funny moments as they conspire (along with allies in multiple areas in airport operations, including Ludacris as a TSA agent) to have Montana run into all her ex-boyfriends as they fly around the country. They include hip-hop mogul Damon Diesel (Trey Songz), a libertarian running for congress, Langston Jefferson Battle III (Taye Diggs), and a hospitality mogul seeking “adventure” (or “international travel booty”) Quinton Jamison (Djimon Hounsou). And of course there is Bill (Derek Luke), her high school BFF whom happens to live next door, because every sitcom star needs a wacky next-door neighbor who also happens to be a sweet and dedicated friend.

Written and directed by Talbert and based upon his novel of the same name, Baggage Claim focuses too much on plot and too little on character. Given all the talent involved it’s a shame the screenplay wasn’t more ambitious. For a woman that “discovers” herself, it’s a little odd she’s rarely given a moment to herself, especially in her travels. If only she’d venture out of the lobby of her business class hotel, but I suppose that’s the point. At least Gwyneth Paltrow in her flight attendant movie, the charming A View from the Top, got to walk around Paris; poor Montana Moore gets a depressing view of an all too hegemonic United States — it’s all airport terminals and lobby bars, and that’s why she keeps meeting the same kinds of men.

Baggage Claim is now in wide release.

Grade: C-

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