'Baggage Claim' (PG-13)

Fantasy is the heart-shaped foundation of any romantic comedy, but the time has come to set up some rules. Here is the first one: If the main character is a pathetic, lonely, desperate old maid who can’t ensnare a husband or even a date to her sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner, no one is allowed to cast Paula Patton. Ever. Even if you make her wear glasses, shave her head and outfit her in Lady Gaga’s old meat dress in a size too large.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can discuss the other things that went wrong with Baggage Claim, a shrill, embarrassing comedy that insults the female audience for which it is intended. There is almost nothing to like about this insipid movie, from its opening narration about marriage by flight attendant Montana Moore (Patton) to the faux inspirational and completely unearned burst of female empowerment at the film’s conclusion.

The film follows Montana’s efforts to browbeat a man, any man, into marrying her. She will not be satisfied by merely enjoying someone’s company or having an intellectually stimulating conversation, and she doesn’t seem to care much about sex except as a means to an end.

When a bad experience with a passenger (Boris Kodjoe, well worth having a bad experience with) shatters her engagement dreams, Montana gets some help from her creative, felonious flight attendant friends (Jill Scott is Sassy/Slutty; Adam Brody is Sassy/Gay). They persuade Montana to use their connections with the airline’s staff — curbside check-in guys, ticket salespeople, airline security — to track all the men she has dated, find out when they’re flying and get Montana on the plane with each one to see if she can rekindle a spark and get a proposal in the next 30 days.

To be fair, the script recognizes part of the problem with this idiotic premise: There is brief talk of federal prison that fazes no one, and someone points out that the plan is reasonable because, hey, everybody travels during the holidays, and so every man Montana ever dated will surely fly somewhere in the next month. What isn’t mentioned is that apparently Baggage Claim exists in a world where there is only one airline operating in the entire country. And you thought the security lines were bad now.

As the madcap plan unfolds and she scurries from New York to Atlanta to Los Angeles, Montana commiserates with her old friend William (Derek Luke), a contractor who lives across the hall and once proposed to her when they were 7. In case you’re unclear on William’s role here, his last name is Wright. As in Mister.

There’s rarely any mystery in rom coms; the genre almost always comes with the guarantee of a happy ending (as well as a musical montage involving clothes and a race to the airport; Baggage Claim supplies both). They can be silly, preposterous even, and still win your affection. But this movie is nothing more than a flight worth missing

Cast: Paula Patton, Derek Luke, Djimon Hounsou, Taye Diggs, Jill Scott, Adam Brody, Trey Songz, Boris Kodjoe.

Writer-director: David E. Talbert. Based on his novel.

Producers: David E. Talbert, Steven J. Wolfe.

A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Running time: 96 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations. Opens Friday Sept. 27 at area theaters.