The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Marry Me’? The only rational response to this J-Lo rom-com is ‘I don’t.’

Jennifer Lopez, left, and Maluma in “Marry Me.” (Barry Wetcher/Universal Pictures)
(1 star)

“Marry Me” takes place in an “uncanny valley” of art imitating life, yet bearing no credible resemblance to anything remotely lifelike. This wan, undercooked rom-com features Jennifer Lopez as Kat Valdez, an international pop diva whose steamy duet with her fiance, Bastian (Colombian singer Maluma), has shot to number one. The song is called “Marry Me,” and at a concert being streamed live across multiple platforms, Kat and Bastian plan to say their vows before millions of their closest fans.

Things don’t go as planned, and Kat winds up plucking a shlumpy rando from the audience to go through with the nuptials. That guy, a divorced math teacher named Charlie, is played by the decidedly non-shlumpy Owen Wilson. He barely knows who Kat Valdez is (he’s attending the concert with his 12-year-old daughter), but he inexplicably agrees. “Marry Me” then spends the next several minutes trying to explain why on Earth a bright, self-possessed woman like Kat would see any benefit in making herself easy pickings for the paps and tabloid bottom-feeders, and why on Earth a normie like Charlie would go along with the stunt.

There’s lighthearted escapism, and then there’s insult to the audience bordering on the contemptuous: “Marry Me,” which has been adapted from Bobby Crosby’s graphic novel by screenwriters Harper Dill, John Rogers and Tami Sagher, never quite recovers from the brain-numbing suspension of disbelief it demands from otherwise sentient viewers.

Plenty of fabulous romantic comedies have been made from unlikely pairings: Hugh Grant’s hapless bookstore owner and Julia Roberts’s movie star in “Notting Hill”; Gregory Peck’s shy newspaper reporter and Audrey Hepburn’s winsome princess in “Roman Holiday”; Barbara Stanwyck’s stripper and Gary Cooper’s tweedy professor in “Ball of Fire.”

Of course, those legendary on-screen couples had the benefit of off-the-charts chemistry. But their stories also had some purchase in a fantasy world that might not have been entirely real but was at least reality-adjacent. “Marry Me,” a haphazardly filmed, tonally mismatched crazy quilt of musical numbers, product placements and courtship scenes staged as pseudo-events for Kat’s socials, is so disengaged from recognizable life that it goes from dreamlike to deranged — and crushingly dull — in the time it takes a girl to slip out of her Louboutins. (Or to put down her Coach purse. Or fire up her Vitamix. Or slip on her Guess sunglasses.)

As preposterous as “Marry Me’s” premise is, there’s no escaping the pings with Lopez’s own marriages, breakups and recouplings, all of which have been packaged either as publicity or predatory consumer content. They hover just out of frame in a movie that itself is part of a Kat-worthy cross-promotion campaign, with Lopez delivering flawless renditions of bops from the accompanying album (a “Marry Me” concert with Lopez and Maluma was just announced). It’s great to see her singing and dancing, and she and Maluma make beautiful music together, but when it comes to the blah romance at the film’s ostensible center, viewers might find themselves rooting for the wrong guy.

“Marry Me” is particularly disappointing because it marks the follow-up to Lopez’s spectacular turn in 2019’s “Hustlers,” in which she delivered a leonine, ferociously sexy turn as a shrewd crime boss. Even a performer of her innate charisma, work ethic and likability can’t enrich gruel this thin. Although Sarah Silverman elicits some genuine laughs as Charlie’s wisecracking best friend, “Marry Me” is a movie is so intent on forcing its nonsensical conceit through to its predictable end that it loses sight of why it exists in the first place. It’s a movie that’s all too happy simply to go through the motions when its star is clearly capable of busting bigger, more interesting moves. Luckily, there are other films in the sea. This is one that Lopez should have left at the altar.

PG-13. At area theaters; also available on Peacock. Contains some strong language and suggestive material. 112 minutes.