Even if you'd never seen a single romantic comedy, "The Wedding Date" would still seem painfully stale.
They're all there - every cliche of the genre. You could sit in the audience with a list and check them off. At least that would be an entertaining distraction.
A neurotic and slightly klutzy heroine who has closed off her heart to the possibility of love? Check. (Oh, and she lives in New York, but remarkably Debra Messing's character, Kat, doesn't work at a magazine.)
A dashing suitor who seems all wrong for her but might just be Mr. Right? Got it. (And Dermot Mulroney's character, Nick, is a male escort, so you can also check off the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliche.)
A wedding as the setting for all of the movie's cataclysmic contrivances? Of course. Think about it: "The Wedding Planner"; "The Wedding Singer"; "My Best Friend's Wedding" (which also co-starred Mulroney); "Four Weddings and a Funeral."
Which brings us to our next rom-com cliche: The ensemble of daffy British friends who are always ready with a drink, a ciggie and a saucy quip (though Sarah Parish, as Kat's cousin, gets the two or three funny lines in first-timer Dana Fox's script).
Director Clare Kilner, who also directed the Mandy Moore teen-angst drama "How to Deal," may have wanted to give single girls (and married women who like chick flicks) the cinematic equivalent of a cup of chamomile tea or a favorite sweater - warm, comfortable, familiar. What she's come up with is tepid, awkward and flat.
It's flawed from the premise alone: Kat has to fly to London for the wedding of her younger sister, Amy (Amy Adams). The best man is her ex-fiance, Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), who inexplicably jilted her. Kat isn't dating anyone, and she certainly can't show up alone, so she takes $6,000 out of her 401(k) to hire Nick to pose as her boyfriend.
Wait a second. We're supposed to believe that any character played by Messing can't find a date? As frenzied and controlling as Kat is, she still looks like Messing.
It's sort of a bummer that the likable "Will & Grace" star, who's had supporting parts in "Along Came Polly" and "Hollywood Ending," stumbled into such a forgettable movie for her first starring role. But another must-see-TV icon, Jennifer Aniston, spent years making lame romantic comedies before finding the right film for her talents: "The Good Girl" in 2002. So there's still hope. (And we're not counting the cult classic "Office Space," which was completely great.)
Anyway, Kat and Nick fly to London for the wedding. They hastily deflect questions from family and friends about how they met. They're forced to share a bed at her parents' house. Nick warns her that intimacy will cost her extra. (But unlike Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman," another movie "The Wedding Date" resembles, he has no qualms about kissing on the mouth.)
Kat has nothing to worry about, though. Everybody loves Nick. The women think he's hot, the men are astounded by his wisdom about relationships. (And why he's working as a male escort is a mystery this wisp of a movie never bothers to solve. He tells Kat he has a degree in comparative literature from Brown. Maybe he needed the money to pay off his student loans.)
What follows is a series of ill-timed confessions and well-timed changes of heart. Kat and Nick have a fight but find themselves falling in love all over again in the next scene when they're forced to take a dance lesson together.
You'll find that you know the steps by heart, too.
"The Wedding Date," a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue. Running time: 80 minutes. One star out of four.
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