IF THERE's any doubt that the beginning of the year is Hollywood's Bad Movie Offload Season, "The Wedding Date" seals it like a 13-carat rock on your ring finger.
Studio romantic comedies (not counting the classics of yesteryear, starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, or Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) are hardly known for their brilliance these days. But this one, starring Dermot Mulroney (or is it Dylan McDermott? You guys confuse me) and Debra Messing (aka TV's Grace to Eric McCormack's Will), has its own special brand of energetic vapidity. Never did a movie act like it was romantic and magical with less evidence.
Money will buy her love: Kat Ellis (Debra Messing) falls in love with her hired escort, Nick Mercer (Dermot Mulroney), in "The Wedding Date."
(Eugene Adebari -- Universal Studios)
Director Clare Kilner and first-time hack Dana Fox hustle down the well-trod aisle of all those wedding movies (from "Four Weddings and a Funeral" to "My Best Friend's Wedding") like replicant brides. They understand the machinations of the ceremony but have no clue that romance is supposed to be the special spark between two alluring and charismatic people. This movie is all pretty faces and six-pack abs, but no characters. All surface and no soul. Come to think of it, the surface isn't so darned hot either.
As I understand the "plot," it goes something like this. Kat Ellis (Messing) has been invited to her half sister's wedding in London. (Why London? Why, to make us all think of "Four Weddings and a Funeral.") But she learns her ex-fiance, Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), is going to the best man. That means Kat and Jeffrey will be rubbing shoulders during the whole stag/hen festivities, pre-ceremony dinner thing.
Determined to look as though she is doing fine, thank you, she hires a top-of-the-line male escort (Dylmot McMulligan or whatever) named Nick to parade around with her. Being a one-dimensional creation, Nick is a stud who has lost the ability to truly love. And Kat, who suffers a similar lack of dimension, has self-esteem issues. Nick knows how to make her feel good. Kat teaches him to care. If you can count from one to two, you should be able to do the math.
"The Wedding Date," whose only saving grace is that it's over in under 90 minutes, has a twist. At least, it's supposed to be one. And it throws Kat into the kind of torment that only Ingmar Bergman could outdo: Oh, she did not do that behind your back! And with him! Oh, the horror! The tears! Cue insipid music on the soundtrack! Finally, Kat realizes the truth that has been sitting right in front of her all along: This is a terrible movie, and the best thing to do is smile and look happy until the credits pull the merciful curtain across the screen. Okay, so that last part was my interpretation. Guess it's just my desperate way of begging Hollywood to please, please resist the temptation to make "The Wedding Date 2."
THE WEDDING DATE (PG-13, 89 minutes) -- Contains sexual situations and dramatic pablum. Area theaters.