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THE WEDDING SINGER

by: Scott Renshaw

I've gotta admit, I have a real hard time taking Adam Sandler seriously as a romantic leading man.  And apparently I'm not alone in that respect -- Sandler himself seems to be having a real hard time taking himself seriously as a romantic leading man throughout THE WEDDING SINGER. Sandler stars as Robby Hart, a one-time aspiring rock-and-roller now making a meager living playing wedding receptions and bar mitzvahs circa 1985.  After being left at the altar by a fiancee (Angela Featherstone) who can't deal with his low-rent "career," Robby begins losing the will to sing "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)," substituting "Love Stinks." That's before he begins spending time with Julia Sullivan (Drew Barrymore), a sweet waitress engaged to a pastel shirt-wearing, vaguely unshaven Don Johnson wannabe named Glenn (Matthew Glave).

It's surprising and refreshing to watch a performer like Sandler try to stretch himself after a string of roles which required him either to scream, destroy things or scream while destroying things.  It's also a bit goofy.  When Sandler's big-haired fiancee explains why she doesn't love him any more, the close-up of Sandler's twitchy face suggests someone trying hard not to burst out laughing; when he explains to Julia how he dreams of being a songwriter, his expression suggests someone trying hard not to burst out laughing.  I was surprised not to find an out-take reel over the closing credits of THE WEDDING SINGER, since it looked like dozens of takes must have ended with Sandler in the middle of a massive giggle fit.

It's a good thing that the pleasant but improbable romance doesn't have to carry THE WEDDING SINGER.  The real star of the show is the mid-80s milieu -- a soundtrack full of the era's one-hit wonders pop tunes, thread-perfect costuming by Mona May (CLUELESS), knowing references to the eventual breakup of Van Halen and several famous couples.  In fact, THE WEDDING SINGER is one of the more consistently chuckle-filled comedies of the last several months.  Though never out-and-out hilarious or inspired, Tim Herlihy's script (with uncredited assist from Carrie Fisher, among others) gets solid mileage out of its kitschy atmosphere, lively cameos by Steve Buscemi, Jon Lovitz and Billy Idol (as himself), and one priceless moment involving a string quartet's solemn rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."  Even Drew Barrymore acquits herself admirably in the uncommon role of the "nice girl."

Still, there's something ever-so-slightly askew about Adam Sandler trying to get away with the hushed tones and puppy-dog eyes of a sensitive, relationship kinda guy.  He may be an actor some day, but he's not there yet; he's still primarily a happy-go-lucky anarchist with a talent for silly voices and even sillier songs.  Robby's performance scenes are certainly where Sandler seems most comfortable, particularly as he tears into a diatribe against his ex or a lyrically amusing ode to growing old with Julia.  When he steps off the stage and into his best faux John Cusack, it just looks like it's all he can do to keep a straight face.  THE WEDDING SINGER turns out to be an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes laughing at the past.  In a different way, it may be just as funny watching Sandler spend 90 minutes laughing at an alternative future.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 mister microphones:  6.

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