Even if the Columbia TriStar marketing department wasn’t so hell-bent on giving away every last turn of the story in the trailer, “The Wedding Planner” would have still reeked of familiarity. In a development that would have pleased the title character, every detail in this film goes according to the well-worn modern romantic comedy plan. But such a lack of ambition in intent isn’t so much a problem as the absence of it in execution.
Following her steely female turns in “Out of Sight” and “The Cell,” it is nice to see Jennifer Lopez try something different for a change. She displays some surprising comic flair as Mary Fiore, the impossibly gorgeous wedding planner of the title, who even more impossibly is a workaholic with no social life whatsoever. Enter Dr. Steve Edison (Matthew McConaughey) who meets cute with Mary while saving her shoe from a runaway dumpster (don’t ask). After the two spend a nice evening in the park, it appears that Mary may have found her man. But not so fast — Steve, a.k.a. “Eddie,” also happens to be the husband-to-be of the wealthy Fran Donnolly (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras), and these impending nuptials just happen to be Mary’s latest project.
If there’s any iota of freshness present in Michæl Ellis and Pamela Falk’s script, it’s in the character of Fran. A nice and fairly sensible person, she doesn’t fall into the any of the three “B”s usually assigned to romantic comedy third wheels: boring, bitchy, or brain-dead. But that’s the only effective twist the writers or director Adam Shankman bring to the tired party, which includes everything from the requisite kooky best friend (played by Judy Greer) to a would-be comic misunderstanding that would be quickly straightened out if someone just spoke up. There is, however, the occasional bizarre development, namely how a subplot in which Mary’s father (Alex Rocco) tries to fix her up with her wacky childhood friend Massimo (Justin Chambers) lays the foundation for a curiously sober exploration of arranged marriages.
Even with such weak material, Lopez and McConaughey soldier on. Any charm present in the film is only due to their likable and charismatic screen presences (though McConaughey is saddled with some really bad hair throughout the film); the pair also indeed click as a couple. Wilson-Sampras is also quite appealing in the role of the potential “spoiler”. But their efforts are all for naught in a relentlessly formulaic exercise that serves no apparent purpose…
…until the film’s close. As the soft swell of music that accompanies the preordained happy ending spills over to a black screen on which the words “The End” slowly write themselves, the manufactured mood of warm fuzziness remains. Then, without warning, the thumping bass line of Lopez’s new hit single, “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” (which in no way can be linked thematically to the film), throbs on the sound system, abruptly killing any lingering good will. Suddenly, it becomes clear: “The Wedding Planner” is not so much a movie than just another tool in the entertainment-world-domination plot concocted by the burgeoning, big-butt-blessed multimedia phenomenon nicknamed J. Lo.