‘Baggage Claim’ packs light, plays it safe

Reviewer’s Rating: ★ ★

“Baggage Claim” stars Paula Patton as a flight attendant on the hunt for Mr. Right. A bubbly romantic-comedy polished in the romantic-comedy Hollywood tradition, the film achieves liftoff with the help of a lively ensemble cast. Derek Luke, Taye Diggs, Boris Kodjoe, singer-actress Jill Scott, singer-actor Trey Songz, Jenifer Lewis and Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou join Patton’s manhunt.

David E. Talbert, the writer-director of a dozen touring stage productions, including the recent “What My Husband Doesn’t Know,” adapted and directed “Baggage Claim,” his second feature film, from his novel of the same name.

“Baggage Claim” is exceptional in being a romantic-comedy featuring an African-American cast. Otherwise, it’s a sweet but conventional story that’s desperate to please.

There’s desperation, too, in Patton’s character, Montana Moore. Buckling under societal pressure, not to mention her browbeating, five-time married mother, the lovely Montana gives herself a 30-day, 30,000 miles deadline to land a husband. The 30 days represent the time that will elapse before Montana’s little sister’s wedding. The 30,000 miles are the distance Montana will travel to find a guy. Montana uses her airline connections to facilitate the search. Her friend and fellow flight attendant, Sam (Adam Brody), and her other friends and co-workers move heaven and Earth to arrange what appear to be serendipitous airport encounters between Montana and marriageable candidates.

“Baggage Claim” moves quickly. Montana’s deadline looms over everyone’s heads, including another co-worker, Jill Scott’s scene-stealing, sexually aggressive Gail. Patton, Scott and Brody share high-spirited comic chemistry that makes the movie even more frantic.

Montana’s travels yield a series of misadventures with mismatched men. The suave Damon (Songz) turns out to not be so smooth and not the rich music star he pretends to be. Congressional candidate Langston Jefferson Battle III (Diggs) insists upon obedience from his dogs and his women.

Meanwhile, Luke’s William has been Montana’s friend since childhood. He’s so close yet so far, living across the hall from his frequently flying neighbor.

Luke, an actor who makes any project he appears in, including “Sparkle” and “Glory Road,” better because he’s in it, plays William with enveloping warmth. This means he has zero bad-boy appeal. Montana takes quiet, steady, nice guy William for granted, never thinking of him in a romantic way.

The script throws complications Montana’s way, leaving her with dilemmas to face and tough decisions to make. So “Baggage Claim” can claim some genuinely adult moments. But Talbert mostly plays it safe, light and predictable. “Baggage Claim” has style and real rapport among its many characters, but it needs a little more soul and imagination.