Before the start of the original “Masquerade Show in the Sky” stage and ceiling float show at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas (it has changed in many ways now), there was a continual loop of clips from the Rio’s other entertainment offerings on a big monitor mounted high on a wall near the stage. In this collection was “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding,” which I understood was originally an Off-Broadway show with a lot of interactivity for audience members. Seemed like it would be fun, but at the time of that second family Vegas trip, I was more interested in the maniacal comedic magician The Amazing Johnathan, then at the Sahara, and my mom, unfortunately, was keen on seeing a Russian ice skating show at the Riviera, and that was an evening not to be remembered.
Now I’ve seen “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding: The Movie” and, wow. This is unforced, gradually unhinged, always-entertaining hilarity involving one of the most unconventional wedding receptions ever to be put on film. The groom’s family, the Nunzios, is led by Anthony “Big T” Nunzio, Sr. (John Flore), whose pride and joy in business is ‘The Animal Kingdom,’ his small strip club, which he intends to pass onto his son as a wedding present with a few caveats, including a “golden parachute” for himself. The bride’s family, the Vitales, has a matriarch (Priscilla Lopez) who wishes her late husband Vito could be present for the wedding. The story, according to Anthony Sr., is that his eternal absence was caused by Mrs. Vitale demanding that he put up Christmas lights in a blizzard, and it was no accident that he died. Anthony Sr. claims that he pushed himself over from the house on the ladder and into blissful death, with a big smile on his face, because he found an exit from his wife’s constant nagging.
Consider the bride, Tina (Mila Kunis, easily separating herself from Jackie Burkhart on “That ‘70s Show” and Family Guy’s Meg Griffin), and groom, Tony (Joey McIntyre), victims then, rather than a happy new couple on this big day. To try to recreate the audience participation in the stage show, writer/director Roger Paradiso first uses the camera as the viewpoint of Tina and Tony as they both get ready, Tina with her bridesmaids (a vivid collection of performances) and Tony, trying to get his family out of the strip club and toward the church. Once the church is in view, we’re introduced to Raphael (Guillermo Diaz), a student at NYU film school with a prominent streak of blue in his hair, serving as the wedding filmmaker for his thesis. Combine all that I’ve just mentioned with a baseball game-betting priest (Dean Edwards) getting drunker by the whiskey shot, a Vitale nun relative who drinks (Mary Testa), one grandparent with a bladder problem that requires a diaper, and Anthony Sr.’s girlfriend Maddy (Krista Allen); enough individual sparks to make one anticipate the explosions that will occur between these two families. And they do, over and over.
But with that kind of conflict, there also has to be a venue so cheesy enough, so small-scale, that there’s enough comedic possibilities there too and there is, with Vinnie Black’s Coliseum, run by men in Roman costumes. In an interview with the wedding filmmaker, Vinnie (Richard Portnow) says that the establishment was originally his parents’ Italian restaurant which was failing. He saw “Spartacus,” as a teenager, and was so inspired by it that he re-themed it and there it is, a battleground for all sharp words and bitter feelings to overflow with the assistance of a steady supply of alcohol. At 110 minutes, it would seem that with having the proceedings exclusively in one place, with all these family members to contend with, the jokes may run dry, there’d be no characterizations left that are watchable enough to merit the film being so long. Paradiso is well aware of that and right at the moments where one wonders how much time is left, there’s a line, a gag, an act of insanity that pulls us back in quicker than we could possibly complain. Paradiso’s script also has a few terrific lines that aren’t written to show off. They feel natural coming from these personalities. It’s all just part of life’s experiences for these two Italian families from Queens.
Besides everything already offered up, it’s surprising to find Adrian Grenier here, playing Michael, who was with Tina once, but can’t get her out of his mind. During a bit of curiosity-driven research, I found out that this was filmed before Grenier began his star-making role as movie star Vincent Chase on “Entourage.” Being a great fan of the show (Turtle’s my favorite), I always tend to wonder if any of the roles the actors play outside of “Entourage” could conceivably be played by their fictional counterparts. That happened when Kevin Dillon played Lucky Larry in “Poseidon,” and it looked more like he was playing Johnny Drama playing Lucky Larry. With Grenier here, the role of Michael–with moments of relentless outlandishness, some caused by smoking potent pot–could have been played by Vincent Chase early in his career. Very early. Grenier is suitably present when there are scenes that look like they may collapse from having worn out their intentions.
Besides successfully causing fits of various types of laughter, “Tony ‘N Tina’s Wedding: The Movie” delivers big in another way: Now I’ve got to add the Rio production to my already long to-do-and-see-in-Vegas list. And it’s no coincidence that this DVD is out before “Mamma Mia!” opens in theaters. Best to ride the publicity that may cause satisfied moviegoers to wonder if any other relatively recent stage productions have been made into movies (besides “Hairspray” of course). This one is worth every minute, and it helps that the feeling seems mutual from this energetic cast.