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Destination Wedding *

by Ruben Rosario

Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder reunite for their fourth joint big-screen outing, but this asinine insult comedy gives fans no reason to celebrate. The charismatic stars struggle with earache-inducing dialogue that reduces their characters to bile-spouting losers.  

Is it worth $10? No  

For moviegoers who grew up in the 1980s and '90s, their film diet would be incomplete without Keanu Reeves or Winona Ryder. Going through their body of work, what stands out is the actors' refusal to stick with one genre. Reeves' range as a performer, for instance, might not be wide, but the kinds of projects he's selected run the gamut from bone-crunching action to period dramas. And in addition to being Tim Burton's muse, Ryder has worked with some of the most iconic filmmakers, effortlessly shifting from pedigreed undertakings to lowbrow popcorn flicks, with often memorable, if uneven, results.

Say this for “Destination Wedding,” an insult comedy masquerading as a rom-com that marks the stars' fourth collaboration in front of the camera: It doesn't attempt to milk their distinct screen presence for nostalgia's sake. This is not a trip down memory lane that keeps winking at viewers “Stranger Things”-style. As it happens, it's one of the only positive things that can be said about this rancid groaner.

Writer-director Victor Levin introduces the pair in the most banal of meet-cute situations, as Frank (Reeves) and Lindsay (Ryder) wait to catch a flight to San Luis Obispo, California, to attend the titular event. Lindsay, a self-consciously neurotic bundle of nerves, calls Frank out when he none-too-subtly tries to cut in front in the line to board. He makes it clear he wants to get as far away from her as he possibly can. Let the battle-of-the-sexes bickering begin.

Wouldn't you know it? They end up sitting together in an eight-seat plane and are thus forced to interact with one another. Ryder, her face uncomfortably pinched for roughly 80 percent of the film's running time, bristles at Frank's cynicism and alpha-male posturing, especially once it becomes open knowledge that she was once engaged to the groom...who's Frank's half-brother. Thus “Destination Wedding” reaches the 15-minute mark, with nearly 75 more to go.

Two things become apparent right away: There's a lot of dialogue, and very little of it sounds like words that would come out of people's mouths. Ryder fares better than her co-star; they both earn points for memorizing the cringe-inducing banter and trying to make it come across as amusing. (They fail.) The other thing that comes across is that there is almost zero interaction between their characters and anyone else. The rest of the cast is thus relegated to background noise, glorified extras who could have helped offset the feeling we're trapped in a jail cell with two self-absorbed basket cases who won't shut up.

Levin, a TV vet whose credits include “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Mad Men,” keeps the brittle putdowns coming. The characters' rapport recalls another of the filmmaker's small-screen projects: the Paul Reiser-Helen Hunt sitcom “Mad About You.” But those stars had genuine charm to offset the tart one-liners. Reeves and Ryder are too busy reciting their implausibly verbose dialogue to establish any kind of tangible spark. It's not difficult to imagine Gary Oldman, their co-star in “Bram Stoker's Dracula,” in full makeup recoiling in disgust at the verbal garlic cloves they are tasked to deliver here.

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But just when you think it could not possibly get any worse, “Destination Wedding” grabs a shovel and keeps on digging. Once they arrive to San Luis Obispo, Levin twists his narrative into a pretzel to put his protagonists in harm's way in the most inane way conceivable. Once they avert a date with the Grim Reaper, the mismatched duo, naturally, give in to their animal impulses. Levin stages Frank and Lindsay's outdoor hanky panky for laughs, but just when you think he'll allow physical humor to carry the scene, the characters continue their unending tête-à-tête in the middle of their coital relations. (This reviewer suddenly remembers Reeves' bare buttocks haven't been seen onscreen since that peek-a-boo glimpse in “Devil's Advocate.” No such luck here, But I digress,) The sequence is an unsavory combination of tasteless and grating.

“Destination Wedding” is also saddled with the irony that it's set in an attractive, picturesque location, but despite an inclination for long shots, a rarity in comedies like this, the film's widescreen lensing is astonishingly drab and flat. In other words, there's no eye candy to distract viewers from the agony of enduring these deeply unpleasant individuals' unorthodox courtship.

“How much worse can things get?” says Lindsay at one point. Allow me to answer that question. “Destination Wedding” is the kind of leaden romance that thinks deconstructing Keanu Reeves' penis is just darling. (Lindsay calls it “balletically formed.” I wish I could be making this up.) It's all part of Levin's off-putting existentialism, his belief that what the world needs now is wasting two immensely likable performers in order to assault viewers with a toxic worldview the likes of which will likely send moviegoers running for the exits. This movie is the pits. RSVP “hell no.”

Photos courtesy of Aviron Pictures and Robb Rosenfeld/Regatta, respectively.

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