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'The Big Wedding' review: Robert De Niro in lacklustre comedy

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Director: Justin Zackham; Screenwriter: Justin Zackham; Starring: Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, Susan Sarandon; Running time: 89 mins; Certificate: 15


Despite an A-List line-up, The Big Wedding feels small in many ways. One can only assume there was a big fat paycheque involved for the likes of Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton to negotiate a script with such lack of ambition, laughs and insight. But then, the runtime does force them to drag out a story that could have been ripped from a sitcom.

The desperation is evident early on when Ellie (Keaton) lets herself into the home of ex-husband Don (De Niro) and is forced to endure the spectacle of his head disappearing up the skirt of his second wife Bebe (Sarandon). To make the situation ickier, it gradually becomes apparent that Bebe was once Ellie's best friend, but they've somehow managed to stay on amicable terms.

Even less credible is the sudden reassignment of positions when Ellie and Don's adopted son and prospective groom Alejandro (Ben Barnes) announces that his biological mother Madonna (Patricia Rae) is coming to join the wedding party. Because she's a strict Catholic, Ellie and Don must convince her that they're still married, relegating Bebe to the part of caterer.

Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams in 'The Big Wedding'
Bedroom doors open and shut in the style of a French farce as Ellie tries to avoid the night shift with Don. Meanwhile, Topher Grace plays the groom's brother Jared who, at 29 years old, is 'saving himself' for true love - until he claps eyes on Madonna's skinny-dipping daughter Nuria (Ana Ayora). Then there's Katherine Heigl, who's nursing a broken heart and morning sickness as big sister Lyla.

Robin Williams purses his lips in a suggestive manner as the vicar presiding over the nuptials (the bride Missy is a nothing role for a bland Amanda Seyfried) who offers them counsel on the delicate matter of conjugal relations. There are a few chuckles, but writer/director Justin Zackham (who penned The Bucket List) depends too heavily on crude gags that have little shock value.

Essentially, Zackham trades in the kind of wink, nudge humour that belongs on daytime chat shows aimed at OAPs (and just as flatly lit), except for the liberal use of foul language. He's also missing the element of surprise when it comes to the ensuing complications of the initial deception. To begin with, it seems completely preposterous and gradually devolves into a lot of minor silliness.

The twists and revelations might have worked in a broader comedy, but Zackham is angling for a warts 'n' all family portrait with touchy-feely moments that are clearly intended to strike a deeper chord. Instead, they clang. It's not just that the family live in a rarefied atmosphere - on a rolling lakeside estate in Connecticut - it's that they're totally one-dimensional.

Don is an artist (and judging by the house, a very successful one) and we're to assume his bohemian spirit extends to a free love philosophy. Keaton is typically neurotic yet well-meaning and Sarandon is reduced to a running joke, championing her organic hors d'oeuvres. The scenes of female bonding are just as hard to swallow in a long and winding buffet of unsatisfying titbits.

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