‘The Big Wedding’ renews too many vows

Jason Fraley, WTOP film critic

WASHINGTON – When you hear a joke the first time, you laugh.

When you hear it a second time, you can’t wait to retell it.

But when you hear it the 20th time, it loses its luster.

You are hereby cordially invited to “The Big Wedding.”

RSVP only if you’re easily amused.

If you’ve never seen a wedding comedy in your life, the plot may sound like a hilarious romp with uproarious complications:

Ellie (Diane Keaton) must pretend to be married to ex-husband Don (Robert De Niro) to satisfy their conservative in-laws, Barry and Muffin (David Rasche and Christine Ebersole), and the religious mother (Patricia Rae) of their adopted son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes). Alejandro and his bride-to-be Missy (Amanda Seyfried) also must bend the truth with their Catholic priest (Robin Williams). But the lies can’t last amid the storm of Don’s scorned girlfriend Bebe (Susan Sarandon), pregnant daughter Lyla (Katherine Heigl) and virgin son Jared (Topher Grace), who tries to woo his sultry adopted sister Nuria (Ana Ayora).

If, however, you’ve seen dozens of wedding comedies, the plot may feel more like this:

Diane Keaton revives her “Father of the Bride” past as Mother of the Groom, only to find “It’s Complicated” to sleep with your ex, Robert DeNiro, who pretends they’re still married in order to “Meet the Parents.” If that sounds a little like “The Birdcage,” get ready for Robin Williams repeating his priest from “License to Wed,” Katherine Heigl concealing the fact that she’s “Knocked Up,” and a sex- crazed sister offering “Wedding Crashers” foreplay under the dinner table, as Topher Grace tries his best not to become a “40-Year-Old Virgin,” only to be stymied by the “Bull Durham” dilemma of poetry versus sex. Where’s Susan Sarandon when you need her? Oh yeah, she’s here, too.

The lack of originality should be no surprise considering the entire film is a remake of Jean-Stephane Bron’s French farce “Mon frere se marie” (2006). This time, writer/director Justin Zackman (“Going Greek”) makes his first outing since “The Bucket List” (2007), which at least had Rob Reiner (“The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally”) in the director’s chair.

Like “The Bucket List,” this one comes with a star-studded cast. Keaton has become something of a wedding movie matriarch since accompanying Michael Corleone to his sister’s wedding in “The Godfather” (1972). Heigl wears the genre as comfortably as her “27 Dresses” (2008). And after decades of Scorsese violence, DeNiro has found new life in fatherly romantic comedy roles, from “Meet the Parents” (2000) to “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012).

Still, the script never quite lives up to the cast, telling borderline racist jokes (“Who do you have to lynch for a Cosmo around here?”), relying too heavily on splashy pratfalls (DeNiro’s fall into a pool is weak), telegraphing its twists (is there any doubt Heigl is preggers?) and settling for a resolution where everyone sleeps with everyone, only to shrug it off for a happy ending.

We never feel like these are real people with real problems, but rather cookie cutter characters. It’s the difference between a hilarious off-the-cuff best man toast and an overly rehearsed maid of honor speech with too many fond memories read verbatim off the page with shaky, nervous hands.

This is what separates “The Big Wedding” from other recent ensemble successes, from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002) to “Love Actually” (2003) to “Crazy, Stupid Love” (2011). Those movies kept us on our toes with interweaving stories of wit and charm. By the time “The Big Wedding” hits its comedic stride in Act Two, it’s too late to save itself from a bad first impression in Act One.

Craft and originality aside, comedies must ultimately be judged by whether they make us laugh, and this one did make me laugh out loud a few times, mostly from the mother-in-law Muffin continually putting her ignorant foot in her plastic-enhanced mouth.

But if “Bridesmaids” and “The Hangover” were blowout bashes with open bars and killer DJ’s, “The Big Wedding” feels like we’re renewing our vows, checking all the boxes as we go through the motions.

★ ★

The above rating is based on a 4-star scale. Follow WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley on Twitter @AboveTheJFray or on his blog The Film Spectrum.

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