Review by: Mark Englehart

Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Debra Messing, Jack Davenport

4 out of 10 stars

The Wedding Date, a romantic comedy that aspires to be called Pretty Man or maybe Four Weddings and a Gigolo, is the cinematic equivalent of flat soda: all the ingredients are there, it's kind of sweet, but it's also kind of stale, with no effervescence of any kind. A movie desperately in need some kind of bounce, it's given no help by its director, Clare Kilner, whose previous movie was the Mandy Moore wet-rag vehicle How to Deal. Fairly serviceable with a camera but helplessly out of touch with her actors or story, Kilner trains the lens on a variety of pretty settings and pretty people (and at one point, star Dermot Mulroney's treasure trail), but gets very little mileage out of any of it. The one item on her agenda seems to be conveying, in case you didn't realize it from the title, the premise, the poster or the commercial, that yes, this is a Chick Flick. She does so by surrounding her star, Debra Messing, with more robin's egg pastel blue than you could find at Tiffany's, and by making all the men in the cast impossibly handsome and all the women very attractive, but not threateningly so. It's like a confidence-building seminar sponsored by Cosmopolitan and Ralph Lauren.

The one masterstroke in all of The Wedding Date is in its wonderfully truncated beginning, which dispenses with backstory build-up entirely and plunges you right into the action. Within the first five minutes, we're shown a wedding invitation, a page of classified ads for male escorts (with promising candidates circled), and a harried thirtysomething woman packing her (robin's egg pastel blue) suitcases. The stressed woman is Kat (Messing), the invitation is for her younger sister's wedding in London, and the male escorts are the guys she's narrowed down to select as her eat-shit-and-die-look-at-my-hot-hot-hot-boyfriend date. Kat needs such a date because she previously ditched her hunky fiancé (presumably right before the ceremony, as a deposit that is fortuitously recovered is mentioned) and is loathe to appear as a sad-sack spinster. In one of those twists only desperate screenwriters could come up with, the sister's groom is the brother of Kat's ex, who himself is the best man; she's naturally the maid of honor. Ergo, a gigolo is needed.

Enter Nick (Mulroney), the handsomest forty-year-old paid companion you could ever hope for, a man-for-hire of such wisdom and zen-like calmness that Kat dubs him the "Yoda of escorts." Kat and Nick meet on the plane, where's he's all suavity and she's all nerves, and off to London they go. It's up to them to pull off the charade of their lovey-doveyness for Kat's family, and to make Kat's ex (Jeremy Sheffield) riotously jealous. But just as The Wedding Date seems to set itself up as a weird My Best Friend's Wedding/Bridget Jones's Diary/American Gigolo hybrid, the movie inexplicably falls apart like a house of (robin's egg pastel blue) cards. Kat and Nick's romance develops out of nowhere, a subplot involving Kat's sister and her beleaguered groom is shoved to the forefront, the previously dreamy ex is revealed to be a cad, and stumbling blocks that would have been kicked out of the writers' room of Friends are unsubtly introduced.

The most egregious of faults is the lack of spark between Mulroney and Messing, who seemingly get along well enough but are never even given half a scene to show how things click between them. The actors do all they can – Messing dials down her shrilly Will & Grace persona into something resembling plausible human behavior, and Mulroney is a notch or two above his regular, almost-somnambulistic laconicness – but for all the supposed rubbing between them, you can't even get a hint of warmth, much less passionate heat. She certainly seems taken with his handsomeness and charm, and he seems rather, well, fond of her, but fondness does not a successful romantic comedy make. In between their playacting at romance, a cast of zany supporting players does all but wave their arms at the camera in hope of some attention, with mixed-to-negative results. Amy Adams succeeds all too well at conveying the bitchiness, selfishness, and entitlement of Kat's sister, and Sheffield, whom you might recognize as the chiseled, uncomfortable suitor from the video for Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," brings his unique lack of chemistry to this movie as well.

The only finely-tuned performance in The Wedding Date belongs to Jack Davenport, the floppy-haired Brit most recognizable to American audiences as the doomed boyfriend in The Talented Mr. Ripley and Keira Knightley's stuffy suitor in Pirates of the Caribbean. If you've had the fortune to catch the British series Coupling (not the American version), you know Davenport is a shrewd comic actor who can play hapless without appearing stupid and whose smarts continue to upstage his matinee-idol good looks. Here, Davenport again plays hapless as the groom who's always the last to find out everything, but when his character is hit with an unsavory revelation, he adroitly balances the pathos of the situation with the comedic elements of the movie. As a result, he's the only cast member who seems perfectly comfortable in character. He even manages not to be upstaged by robin's egg pastel blue.