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This 'Wedding Date' Won't Catch Any Bouquets

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2005; Page C01

It's an amusing premise, the whole "Pretty Woman"-in-reverse thing: Kat, the addled heroine of "The Wedding Date," has nuptials to attend across the pond, and no beau in sight. Time's a-wastin', so she dips into her 401(k), the better to hire Nick, a model beau, a Sensitive Man with a Comp Lit degree from Brown who just happens to earn a living toiling in the world's oldest profession.

And so, faster than you can say frequent-flier miles -- or conspicuous product placement from Virgin Atlantic -- Kat (Debra Messing) and Nick (Dermot Mulroney) are flying to London for her half-sister's wedding, where the ersatz couple will spend a weekend trying to convince Kat's family and, more important, Kat's ex that she and Nick are madly in love.

Messing and Mulroney hunker down for the night, but it's the audience who's left snoring. (Eugene Adebari -- Universal Studios)

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For any single woman who has ever faced the horror of attending a wedding solo, particularly when an ex is on the invite list, it's a tempting fantasy: Rent a date. Preferably one who's drop-dead fine and acts devoted on cue.

Amusing premise, not-so-amusing execution.

Little things get in the way of "The Wedding Date," directed by Clare Kilner -- little things like, oh, a bad script, stilted dialogue, an overwrought plot with a squirm-inducing revelation far too weighty for the froth of a romantic comedy -- and a seriously obnoxious heroine.

It's not Kat's (or Messing's) fault that she's obnoxious. She's just drawn that way. Here's a woman who's clearly on the far side of 30, a grown woman who can obviously afford Nick's $6,000 weekend tab, but she persists in acting like she's barely out of her teens, yet another entry in a long line of stereotypical, screeching singletons populating romantic comedies these days. (Yes, Renee Zellweger, aka Bridget Jones, we're talking to you.) Somewhere along the way, studio suits decided that a romantic heroine had to be lovable, which she does, but that to be lovable, she had to be a complete mess (which she doesn't).

This notion is rooted in the success of the adorably wacky heroines who were once the oeuvre of Meg Ryan, from "When Harry Met Sally" to "Sleepless in Seattle." Ryan did cute and neurotic better than anyone. But beneath the neurosis was a certain amount of strength, not to mention sex appeal. Her characters might find solace alphabetizing their video collections, but she always played a woman comfortable with her own sexuality. In other words, a grown-up.

Kat, on the other hand, acts like a woman who's never seen herself naked, let alone a man. Nick steps out of the shower, and Kat is unexpectedly -- and literally -- faced with his naughty bits. She's instantly reduced to a seventh-grader, all over-the-top stammering and broad comic mugging. This is a gag that could've worked in, say, "13 Going on 30," or perhaps in director Kilner's earlier effort, the teen flick "How to Deal." But how much more effective if Kat had instead channeled Samantha or Carrie from "Sex and the City" with a clever quip designed to take a man down to size, so to speak.

But the clever quips are in short supply here. There are attempts at quippyness, as when Kat warns Nick early on: "You know those families that are crazy but by the end of the day you love them because they're family? That's not my family." Too bad the family never lives up to the as-advertised madcap dysfunctionalism. But mostly, we have platitudes served up with plodding regularity by Nick: "I think I'd miss you even if I never met you," and "The hardest thing in loving someone is letting them love you back."

No, the hardest thing is watching Mulroney and Messing try to feign any kind of chemistry. Mulroney's too busy being saddled with the perfect man cliche and Messing's too busy acting scattered and wounded for the two ever to interact and ignite.

Don't bother asking how an Ivy League guy would end up hooking. Such a query could only lead to some dark answers, answers that the filmmakers have no interest in dealing with but which would make for a much more interesting movie than "The Wedding Date," coming at you just in time for date-movie season, could ever hope to be.

The Wedding Date (89 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual situations.

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