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‘Wedding Date’ takes itself too seriously

Debra Messing hires Dermot Mulroney to take her to her sister’s wedding. By John Hartl

It’s almost impossible for a movie with “wedding” in the title to fail. From  “Muriel’s Wedding” to “The Wedding Singer” to “Four Weddings and a Funeral” to “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” the word all but promises entertainingly disastrous fun and outright folly.

Marriage ceremonies in the movies seem to lead directly to runaway brides, cuckolded grooms and catty remarks from the in-laws, and who can resist the complications? Still, a sense of deja-vu has definitely sunk in.

“The Wedding Date,” based on Elizabeth Young’s novel, “Asking For Trouble,” stars Dermot Mulroney, the groom from “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and Debra Messing, who has done her share of wedding scenes on “Will & Grace.” There’s not much they can do to freshen the genre — or first-time screenwriter Dana Fox’s sleepy script, which specializes in creating the flimsiest of characters.

Messing plays Kat Ellis, an insecure New Yorker who has never married. When she’s invited to the British wedding of her younger sister, Amy (Amy Adams), she’s forced to deal with the fact that her ex, Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), is the best man. That’s where Mulroney comes in.

As Nick Mercer, a popular male escort, he’s handsome and literate and fond of showing off his great abs to clients. Kat has taken $6,000 out of her 401K to hire him to accompany her to London, where he pretends to be her new boyfriend. She’s still carrying the torch for Jeffrey and hopes to stir things up at the wedding.

This is not a bad set-up for a romantic comedy. The movie acquires a little bit of steam every time a supporting character is introduced: Jack Davenport as Amy’s sweetly befuddled fiance, Sarah Parish as a brassy party girl, Holland Taylor as Kat’s bitchy mother, Peter Egan as a sympathetic stepfather, Jolyon James as a cheeky bartender.

Past dalliances have a way of complicating matters, and plenty of skeletons are dragged out of easy-access closets. Certainly the structure exists for a classic farce, but there’s more effort than artfulness on display. 

The idea of Kat hiring a gigolo to deceive her family and ex-lover ends up being more interesting than its execution — especially when Kat finds herself as attracted to Nick as she is to Jeffrey. Their attachment seems utterly contrived, a patent attempt to separate the two stars from the little-known supporting cast. And he’s about as credible a hooker as Julia Roberts was in “Pretty Woman.”

It’s a tribute to Messing and Mulroney that they almost pull it off. What’s missing is that essential scene in which it becomes obvious that these two very different people suddenly can’t resist each other. It’s not in the script, so the actors are left to improvise.

The director, Clare Kilner (who made 2002’s forgotten Mandy Moore vehicle, “How to Deal”), gradually loses track of the fact that “The Wedding Date” is a comedy, and the movie turns preachy and weepy. Even at 85 minutes, it seems about half an hour too long.