If "27 Dresses" was vacuumed up by the year 1997, it might have starred Jennifer Aniston. That's appropriate, since this banal 2008 romantic comedy features her modern-day equivalent, "Grey's Anatomy" cast member Katherine Heigl. Riding high off the hit ABC medical drama, as well as her solid turn in 2007's "Knocked Up
," Heigl's latest bid for big-screen solidification shows off some of her natural charm but mostly entraps her within a screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna (2006's "The Devil Wears Prada
") that is hopelessly unimaginative and predictable to the point of monotony.
Since the age of eight, Jane (Katherine Heigl) has been in love with everything pertaining the weddingsthe planning of them, the different marriage rituals, the idealization of the bride's and groom's special dayand has been a bridesmaid no less than twenty-seven times. What she has never had, though, is a wedding of her own, hiding behind the romances of others so she won't have to face the longtime crush she has had on her boss, George (Edward Burns). When younger model sister Tess (Malin Akerman) returns to New York for a short stay, Jane is crushed to find Tess and George immediately hit it off. As she makes a valiant attempt to put on a happy face when they announce their plans to marry, Jane is paired up with wedding journalist Kevin (James Marsden), who is supposed to be prepping a story about her sister's impending nuptials. What Jane is not aware of is the real story Kevin is writingan exposé on her perpetual bridesmaid status.
The romantic comedy genre is typically not the most original brand of film, and so, really, there is only one true-blue element that is a necessity: the chemistry between onscreen partners. Alas, "27 Dresses," directed by Anne Fletcher (2006's "Step Up"), falls flat in this department. Katherine Heigl and James Marsden (2007's "Enchanted
"), the latter for once getting the male lead after years of playing the "other guy," have zero spark as a couple, just as the movie they're in is strenuously rote and derivative.
The blame should probably not be placed on the actors so much as on the writing of their characters. Jane is depicted as being so obsessed with weddings, and her actions are frequently so erratic, that the viewer is left to wonder about the state of her psychological stability. The treatment of Kevin is even more precarious. In short, he is deceitful about the story he is writing about Jane, he is obnoxious in the way he takes Jane's day planner and rips pages out of it without her permission, and he is overbearing in scenes such as one where he barges into her apartment, pushes her out of the way and begins noseying around in her closet. And yet, despite all of these red flags, we are supposed to root for these two people to be together? Not a chance. When Jane finds out he has been lying to her, the viewer only hopes that she runs in the opposite direction and doesn't look back.
"27 Dresses" relies heavily on a story orchestrated from a convoluted and antiquated screenplay, instead of out of authentic human behavior. Moments of more laid-back interactions are sparse, but there are some. One scene in which Jane and Kevin bond over drinks at a bar before leading the other customers in a sing-along to Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" is a lot of fun, particularly in the comment it makes on the way people often sing songs without actually knowing the real lyrics. Another scene in which Jane lets her feelings hang loose during a slideshow about George and Tess is equally funny and harsh, leading later on to a reconciliation between sparring sisters that surprisingly hits some truthful notes. These self-encased snapshots of flair and promise ultimately expose the rest of the film for the disingenuous fake it is.
Katherine Heigl is well-suited for cinematic romances; although the jury's still out on if she's got what it takes to be the next Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan, she is likable and accessible. James Marsden is less comfortable as the outwardly cynical and inwardly soft-hearted Kevin, his sharp cheekbones and smarmy pretty-boy expressions upstaging him. As Tess, who falls in love with George and takes a long time to recognize the pain Jane is going through because of it, Malin Akerman (2007's "The Heartbreak Kid
") continues to impress with her on-target comedic skills and overall charisma. Tess could have been acted as shrewish and shallow, but Akerman finds the soul within the character. As Jane's best pal, the acerbic Casey, Judy Greer (2004's "13 Going on 30
") shines in the same basic role she's had nearly a dozen times before. Hasn't Greer, so consistently entertaining in the past, paid her dues enough to get the lead? It's disheartening to see someone of her talent always getting the sidekick part. Finally, Edward Burns (2008's "One Missed Call
") is adequate but flavorless as thick-headed nice guy George.
"27 Dresses" is strictly junk food for rom-com lovers who will devour anything of its ilk that comes their way. All other potential audience members needn't bother. The film is overlong at a protracted 107 minutes, the stale, exceedingly obvious material not warranting its length. That the main love story is ineffective and bland only makes the time spent on it seem wasteful. "27 Dresses" isn't the nadir of the genrefar from itbut it is superfluous. As one of the inaugural releases of the new year, it is safe to predict that the picture will be long forgotten by 2009.