Friday, January 26, 2001

Chilly reception

Movie: The Wedding Planner

Posted on Fri, Jan 26, 2001 at 4:00 AM

**
Our Rating: 2.00

Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis, credited with penning the script for the desperately unfunny, emotionally flat romantic comedy "The Wedding Planner," must have had a flash of inspiration not so long ago: What would happen if a workaholic, no-nonsense nuptials coordinator fell in love with one of her clients? What if the romance threatened to destroy a lucrative deal, not to mention said planner's fast-rising career? Imagine the complications that would ensue! Consider the hi-jinks that might erupt! Funsville!

Either the concept wasn't quite so fertile or all the good stuff evaporated while director Adam Shankman ("Mission To Mars," "Isn't She Great," 1998's little-seen "Cosmo's Tale") was bringing the story to the screen. Whatever the reason, the result is as dull a date movie as any of the recent bad young-love flicks starring Freddie Prinze Jr. ("Boys and Girls," "Down to You"). The fact that the lead characters are a decade or so older than their teen counterparts -- and played by more accomplished actors -- doesn't make much of a difference. It's the same humdrum, paint-by-numbers material, livened up with some gorgeous San Francisco backdrops but still a cut below such previous altar comedies as "Father of the Bride," "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "The Bachelor."

Much of the blame for this picture's utter blandness can be placed squarely on the shoulders of stars Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. Lopez, who oozed sexy-tough star quality in "Out of Sight" and "Selena," was little more than a stunning fashion statement in last year's "The Cell." And she mostly walks through her role as "The Wedding Planner's" title character, an uptight, once-burned Miss Lonelyhearts named Mary. Given to spending evenings alone, Mary eats dinner while watching "Antiques Roadshow," tidies up her apartment, folds laundry and then goes to sleep. Finding Jennifer Lopez anywhere in this scenario all but defines the phrase "suspension of disbelief."

McConaughey -- such a find in 1993's "Dazed and Confused" and so effective in "Contact" and "Edtv" -- again wields his disarming Texas accent. But this time, he displays low-grade charm as Steve, a gentle, outgoing pediatrician who saves Mary's life during a contrived sequence that involves a runaway garbage dumpster. The performance is middling at best.

The chemistry between these two is negligible, leaving little room to elevate a storyline that incorporates arguments, misunderstandings, a drunken breakdown and a second heroic act. It's probably not a good sign (for the movie's purposes, anyway) that Steve experiences more sparks with his society-girl fiancée (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras) than with the wedding planner who's supposedly his true soulmate.

As a young Italian immigrant who relentlessly pursues Mary's affections, Justin Chambers ("Liberty Heights") steals every scene he's in. Issuing declarations of puppy love and mangling the English language in a sweet, comic manner, he's easily compared to Roberto Benigni. The movie's Least Valuable Player, however, is Alex Rocco ("Get Shorty," "The Godfather"), who plays Mary's misguided but well-intentioned father. The mealy-mouthed Rocco delivers his lines in an accent that wanders from New-York-Jewish to first-generation-Italian-American to God-knows-where, until his character inevitably comes off as mentally impaired. One guesses that wasn't

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