Ditch This Date

Hollywood's dog season continues with dreck from Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney

This time of year, the movie studios give a resounding "I did!" to the musical question, "Who let the dogs out?" Yes, it's dog season, when Hollywood looks through the racks, finds those movies that have no chance at Oscardom and no chance at vast commercial success, and releases them upon a world that is starving for mediocre and ill-executed entertainment.

Dog season isn't all that long: It generally lasts from the period in early February when all the potential award-winning films have received wide distribution, to sometime in late April, when the pointlessly expensive movies start infesting the theaters like effects-laden cockroaches. And it isn't necessarily that awful; if you just lower your expectations, you might find that the latest Rob Schneider outing is a pleasant divertissement for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The Wedding Date, on the other hand, requires lowering one's expectations to the floor, digging a deep hole, throwing one's expectations in that hole, pile-driving the contents of the hole into the fiery center of the Earth, and then being mildly disappointed anyway. It opens with an expository monologue that sounds like someone reading from the script pitch, heads into the most trite plot since the fall of Napoleon III and lands with a horrifying thud in the realm of bad editing. In case you think I'm being unfair, here's the actual plot of the film, as verified by the U.S. government's official plot checking computers: A woman must go to her younger sister's wedding, where her ex-fiance is the best man. To look less sad and pathetic, and to make her ex jealous, she rents a date. Yes, it's a remake of Loverboy or Can't Buy Me Love, or That Episode of Happy Days After Richie and Potsie and Ralph Left and We Could Finally Concentrate on the Fonzie/Chachie Relationship.

All of this wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the lack of anything funny in this supposed "comedy." Well, it would still be pretty bad, but it would be bearable if there was at least a joke or two. Or maybe some sense to the plot. Knowing that, in any romance, the leads have to have a dispute that threatens to separate them, the writer just randomly has them start fighting at two points in the film for no discernible reason whatsoever. And then they make up, again, for no discernible reason. It's like watching a movie that was written by a random story-writing computer that had been programmed by a particularly dim-witted 5-year-old.

It even lacks the basic technical competence of most modern filmmaking. Not only is the editing jumpy; it also includes the hallmark of bad filmmaking, wherein two characters have a conversation that obviously references a deleted scene. And this conversation does nothing to advance the plot, nor is it humorous. It looks as though it were inserted by mistake, and then when the producers screened the final cut they just went, "Eh, no point fixing that; now, let's get back to snorting cocaine off the breasts of prostitutes."

Nor is the cinematography up to snuff. In the last 15 years, it's become pretty rare to see a film that isn't well-shot, at least by simple technical standards. The cinematographers who now work in Hollywood are a tremendously technically adept bunch, and they have the work of their forbears to inspire, instruct and steal from.

Thus, to see a film with bad camera work is something of an oddity, and if that's what you're after, well, check out The Wedding Date. The cinematography isn't as awful as the editing, but its pointlessly blah, and almost completely fails to take advantage of the English countryside or the spectacle of the wedding itself, staying mostly in mid-range and close-up, and spending an inordinate amount of time on star Dermot Mulroney's admittedly impressive physique.

This, I think, may be a clue to what's going on with this movie: It's porn for women of a certain age who read romance novels. The basic philosophic thrust is that, for those who've put career success ahead of love, or have been spurned by evil lovers, there's always one more chance to buy happiness. Thus the camera lingers on Mulroney's abs and ass like he was a piece of merchandise being inspected for potential consumption.

It is sort of striking that there's no similar fixation on the body of Debra Messing, the female lead, nor of any woman in the film. Only Mulroney gets all wet and naked, going so far as to stand with bare crotch directly in Messing's face so that, one assumes, she can get a "handle" on the product she's bought. Of course, as a man, I'm appalled that a film would treat the male body as a mere piece of meat. Appalled, I tells you.

Mulroney, though, is the one up point in the film, in that he has a decent romantic-comedy act. It owes nothing to the naturalist school of acting, instead creating a comic take on the iconic "perfect man." Still, other than the seamlessness of his Yoda's-mind-in-the-body-of-Adonis performance, there's little to recommend The Wedding Date. No, I'm sorry, that's a lie: In fact, there's nothing to recommend it.

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