- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

With its alternately dopey and smutty priorities, “The Wedding Date,” a dismal attempt to escort Debra Messing across the dividing line between television and movie stardom, leaves every cast member at the mercy of low-minded triflers.

Evidently a British concoction that deemed Americans essential to the romantic foreground, “Date” never emerges as a flattering vehicle for Miss Messing, who had projected a giddy-ditsy appeal as Woody Allen’s girlfriend in “Hollywood Ending” during one of her breaks from “Will & Grace.” Now she appears to be a casualty of misdirection while trying to catch up with Jennifer Aniston’s head start on movie roles.

The heroine of “Wedding Date,” called Kat Ellis (short for Katmandu, no kidding), would compel any actress to grope in vain for engaging attributes. She struggles to sustain a hoax when invited to the London wedding of her younger half-sister, Amy (Amy Adams), an imbecilic calamity who is entrusted with the only authentic observation in the script, “I shouldn’t be allowed to get married.”

Kat seems to have remained lovelorn since a split with a cad named Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), chosen best man at the approaching nuptials by Amy’s sweet-natured dunce of a fiance, Edward (Jack Davenport). Extracting $6,000 from her 401K, Kat hires a professional escort, Dermot Mulroney as Nick Mercer, in hopes of displaying a bogus beau who will make the other guests cringe with envy rather than pity.

At some point it might have been feasible to salvage the material by deploying Nick as a facsimile of Cary Grant, a man of the world so charming that he outclasses the context, projecting a charm and confidence that diminish both Kat’s anxieties and the sense of embarrassment that clings to her friends and family in London.

Kat’s mother Bunny’s wealthy second husband, Victor Ellis (Jack Egan), seems decent enough, but the women are consistently toxic, the defensive and blundering heroine included.

It’s a bad sign early on that Kat and Nick, who are based in Manhattan, don’t have a get-acquainted scene before departing for London. The filmmakers give their heroine more of an encounter with a bike messenger, a bit role. Some kind of public relations rep with Virgin Atlantic, Kat finally meets her date, supposedly a legend in the escort trade, on the flight. Alas, she’s too groggy to sustain a conversation. Once in London, she’s often too drunk to make up for lost time.

The Bridget Jones influence proves more corrosive than jolly in “The Wedding Date.” One character in particular, Sarah Parish’s T.J., is obviously the quipster in charge of cynical and ribald remarks. Not an enviable fate.

Wardrobe, makeup and hair seem to be ongoing stumbling blocks as Miss Messing careens from episode to episode. Kat’s pale-blue luggage appears to be much better coordinated than Kat herself.

It’s a little difficult to believe that Nick’s solicitude will be the answer to Kat’s emotional confusion and insecurity, even though Mr. Mulroney, perhaps chosen as a lucky charm from “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” tries to be a debonair Rock of Gibraltar. Not remotely comparable to Cary Grant, he is sometimes oddly reminiscent, instead, of Roger Moore crossed with Sylvester Stallone. That overlap may be the closest thing to a humorous grace note in “The Wedding Date.”

*

TITLE: “The Wedding Date”

RATING: PG-13 (Fleeting profanity and systematic sexual vulgarity)

CREDITS: Directed by Clare Kilner. Screenplay by Dana Fox, based on the book “Asking for Trouble” by Elizabeth Young. Cinematography by Oliver Curtis. Production design by Tom Burton. Costume design by Louise Page. Makeup and hair design by Kirstin Chalmers. Music by Blake Neely

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: www.theweddingdate.net

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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