Those of us who love Debra Messing are willing to put up with a movie like The Wedding Date, but I wonder about the rest of you. Pretty but not too pretty, funny but not grab-your-lapels funny, Messing is capable of stopping 'Will & Grace' in its tracks when, having evoked the spirit of Lucille Ball, she suddenly turns serious, drawing on her training as a dramatic actress. The show, which just gets wackier and wackier, no longer seems interested in the friendship between Will and Grace ' a shame, because that used to provide some much-needed ballast. And it gave Messing's character a center. Grace is the woman every gay man would marry if things had turned out differently ' pretty, funny, loyal, true and more than a little bit nuts.
In The Wedding Date, Messing plays Kat, a single New Yorker who's a little bit nuts but only a little bit. Maybe Messing wanted to put some distance between herself and Grace. Or maybe she can't work her screwball magic when the script's full of lobbed softballs. Whatever it is, Kat seems like Grace on Paxil. Messing's pleasant enough, but her timing's off, as if she's having trouble adjusting to the purring rhythms of romantic comedy. Kat, still smarting from having been left at the altar two years ago, can't face the prospect of attending her sister's wedding alone, especially given that her ex-fiancÃ is the best man. So she does what any enterprising, vengeful, neurotically insecure woman would do: She hires a male escort to pose as her fabulous new boyfriend.
Dermot Mulroney wouldn't have been my first choice to play Nick, a hooker with a heart of gold and buns of steel. The buns-of-steel part he's got down, as evidenced by a shower scene in which Nick nonchalantly shows Kat what she's paid for. But he can be a very stiff actor, his body moving around like a single block of wood, his face locked into an expression somewhere between a smile and a frown. Where's the young Richard Gere when you need him? Speaking of American Gigolo, The Wedding Date manages to top that boy-toy enterprise in the heart-of-gold department. Nick not only has a degree in comparative literature from Brown, he dispenses nuggets of female empowerment like a rent-by-the-hour Dr. Phil. For this Kat cleaned out her 401(k)?
She certainly didn't do it for the sex, for it turns out that the sex costs extra! Like Pretty Woman, which it bears more than a passing resemblance to, The Wedding Date gets all squeamish when it comes to cash for your trash. Forced to sleep in the same bed with Nick, Kat erects a barrier reminiscent of the one protecting Claudette Colbert from Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, but where's any sign that Nick might actually make a move on her? Where's the sense of danger that should fuel a movie with a premise like this? Instead, director Clare Kilner and scriptwriter Dana Fox (who adapted a novel by Elizabeth Young) seem content to splash around in the bubbly champagne of such movies as My Best Friend's Wedding and Runaway Bride.
Fine with me, if the movie had any effervescence, but it's disappointingly flat. When Messing has a good line ' as when Kat says to her loose-lipped mother (played by the always reliable Holland Taylor), 'Mom, this is so not the time to be yourself' ' she sends it sailing off into the clouds. But most of the lines are closer to the one that Kat's sassy cousin, T.J. (Sarah Paris), delivers regarding Nick's working assets: 'Look at those buns, fresh from the bakery.' That neither Kat's mother nor Kat's cousin winds up playing any kind of role in the movie's plot is an indication of how undeveloped the whole thing is. The Wedding Date might have had a grand old time with its midnight cowboy. Instead, it pisses the night away.