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CULTURE: Approaching wedded bliss; Alison Jones reviews The Wedding Date and Mike Davies casts his eye over the week's other new cinema releases.

THE WEDDING DATE CERT 12A, 88 MINUTES

A few years back there was a hit film and about a lanky red head and a deal that involved a prostitute being paid to play a monied singleton's partner at glamorous social gatherings.

Ground rules that this was strictly a business arrangement and that no emotional attachments would be formed were swiftly forgotten and the red head got her guy as well as an impressive new wardrobe.

Pretty Woman's winning formula is revived again in The Wedding Date, the significant difference being that it is the redhead (Debra Messing) doing the hiring and he (Dermot Mulroney as Nick) who is the hooker.

The action has also been transferred to England (cue curious collision of Ameria and English TV comedy stars) where Kat (Messing) is due to attend the wedding of her half sister (Amy Adams) But still smarting from being dumped by her own former fiance, (this entire backstory communicated via a phone message) who will be the best man, she hires an escort to make him jealous.

All the comedic cliches are crossed off, from the mother (Holland Taylor) publicly humiliating her daughter by raking over the coals of her romantic disasters, to the detached from the madness dad (Peter Egan) dispensing pearls of wisdom, to the brassy best friend (Sarah Parish seizing her chance of making it big in movies with both hands) who gets all the best lines ).

The Wedding Date is gorgeous to look at. It is filmed in a London where the sun always shines, every one lives in big townhouses and spends weekends in mini manors that have Surrey as their backgarden.

Debra's Kat is a slightly less excitable version of her tv persona in Will and Grace. A smug Mulroney rubs the distasteful edges off his profession by looking as glossily handsome (if a little circa 1990) as if he had just walked off the set of an America soap.

Jack Davenport, as the groom, reprises his clueless boyfriend schtick from Coupling, while Jeremy Sheffield is saddled with a thankless role as the supposedly roguishly ex. He comes across as so boorish and shallow, it's a wonder Kat gave him a second glance let alone wanted a second chance.

Though it clips along at a reasonable pace, character development in almost as an afterthought. It also frequently abandons logic. For example, Kat and Nick spend roughly five hours on a plane together yet it is only when they arrive at a meet-the-folks party that they realise they need to come up with a slightly less sordid description of how they met.

And considering this is adapted from a chick lit novel, it is rather unfriendly in its attitude towards women. A quote, repeated like a mantra, that 'every woman has exactly the love life she wants' is annoyingly simplistic and implies they only have themselves to blame for their single status. Nice!

The Wedding Date doesn't exactly break new romcom ground, but it is fitfully amusing, very pretty to look at, and, at 88 minutes, doesn't outstay its welcome. HHH

CURSED CERT 15, 96 MINS

Horror fans were understandably excited two years ago when Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, the directing and writing team behind Scream, announced they were reuniting for an ironic werewolf movie. But then came tales of production nightmares with the film being recast, reshot and recut to remove pretty much all the gore with Craven disowning the version that finally opened.

However, despite uninvolved direction and a scrappy screenplay it's not quite the unmitigated disaster this might suggest.

Attacked by some large creature while helping a car crash victim (Shannon Elizabeth, pronounced doomed in the opening carnival sequence) after their car crashes, chat show producer Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her bullied high school brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg) start noting some strange changes about themselves; heightened sense of smell, increased sexual magnetism, a pentagram mark on their hands, waking up naked on the front lawn.

Research convinces Jimmy that they're turning into werewolves and unless the one that bit them is killed, they'll soon be getting hairy and howling at the full moon.

Initially dismissing his theory as rubbish, Ellie comes to believe he's right. Worse, she suspects that the lycanthrope in question could well be her hot and cold boyfriend Jake (Joshua Jackson) who's busy preparing a waxworks fright show (which includes a model of Cher) for a new nightclub and keeps saying he has something he needs to tell her.

There's several winking references to classic horror movies and Williamson provides some trademark tongue in cheek genre spoofing humour, mostly by way of a nicely timed comic turn from Eisenberg who gets to trash the wrestling team bullies only for his chief nemesis to then develop a huge gay crush.

But too much (especially scenes involving has been celebs Scott Baio from Happy Days and washed up talk show host Craig Kilborn) just falls leadenly flat. Despite red herrings and false scares, there's not a huge amount of suspense either while the budget was clearly running low by the time it came to the werewolf costumes and CGI transformations.

It's certainly no Ginger Snaps, but - at least until the interminably dragged out climax - it does afford undemanding Friday night fun with Ricci just about rising above a script that keeps confusing its vampire and werewolf lore and lines like 'Everybody's cursed, Jimmy. It's called life.' While, in what seems to have been a hammy dry run for her role in 13 Going On 30, Judy Greer provides the film's best gleeful moments as a quite literally beastly bitchy Hollywood publicist. HH

BEAUTY SHOP CERT 12A 105 MINS

Released two years ago, Barbershop, was a warm, witty and often socio-politically incisive African-American sitcomish comedy about a Chicago hairdressers and the guys who worked there. Then, a year later, came the inevitable sequel. Same haircut, blunt scissors. Now we have a distaff spin off from the sequel and, as per the law of diminishing returns, it's rubbish, a distinct case of wash and go see something else.

Introduced in Barbershop 2 as one of the Ice Cube character's ex-flames, Gina (Queen Latifah) has since moved from Chicago to Atlanta so her young daughter can study piano at a top music school and is working as a stylist for arrogant Austrian prima-donna Jorge Christophe (Kevin Bacon).

A clumsily engineered clash of attitudes (she thinks he's racially

insulting her) sees her quit and set up on her own, giving an impossibly quick refurbish to a run down inner city salon and, with the help of her inherited go girl stylists (Alfre Woodard, Golden Brooks, Sherri Shepherd) and naive wannabe black Lynn (Alicia Silverstone), soon pulling in the punters. Including two of Jorge's own prestigious clients (Andie MacDowell, Mena Suvari) who can't get enough of Gina's own recipe conditioner ('hilariously' referred to as hair crack). Predictably, Jorge's soon up to shady tricks to try and put her out of business.

Essentially a female clone of the original complete with mirrored characters (one token white, one member of the opposite sex), it disappoints at virtually every level. Where Cube and his crew spent at least part of their time discussing relevant Black issues, the trivial girl talk here is almost exclusively concerned with sex, bosoms and butts.

OK, Woodard (giving a truly wretched performance) quotes Maya Angelou poetry, but really this is like feminist thought never happened. There's even a greens and catfish seller who'd be declared an offensive racial caricature if she'd been written by a white guy and a loveable young tyke who roams the street videoing booty for his hip hop video.

MacDowell is painfully embarrassing, a grating Silverstone is incredibly even worse than she was in Batman & Robin but at least Latifah just about coasts along on her amiable charm while, in perhaps the most bizarre choice of his career, Bacon knowingly underplays the ham to steal what little scraps are worth having. The real sympathy though goes out to Djimon Hounsou who, reprising much of his turn from In America as the sensitive piano-playing electrician and romantic interest neighbour brings the film a quiet dignity is simply doesn't deserve.

Directed without any sense of pace, rhythm or timing, limp jokes telegraphed hours in advance and with a screenplay that gives mediocrity a bad name, it's a relentlessly dull bad hair day. H

GUESS WHO CERT 12A 105 MINS

It's 38 years since Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming To Dinner found Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn having to come to terms with their racial attitudes on discovering that their daughter's fiancA was black. Now some bright spark's finally come up with the bright idea of doing a race reversal version. Unfortunately, Kevin Rodney Sullivan is no Kramer, Bernie Mac is no Tracy and Ashton Kutcher is decidedly no Sidney Poitier.

Come to that, while mixed race marriages still tend to be emotive issues despite their more common occurrence, the whole provocative examination of racial prejudices that fused the original barely gets a look in here. Indeed, with the exception of a couple of scenes - notably a dinner table moment where Kutcher's goaded by Mac into telling black jokes and then oversteps the mark - his character could just as easily be African-American without any dramatic impact on the comedic set-up.

After all, this is really nothing more than a lightweight and generally unfunny rehash of Meet The Parents with Mac as overprotective, disapproving father Percy for whom no one's going to be good enough to marry his daughter while Kutcher is somewhat clumsy intimidated boyfriend Simon who lies to impress, makes gaffes and gets caught with inappropriate clothing.

Girlfriend Theresa (Zoe Saldana, a Thandie Newton lookalike who's the best thing here) didn't tell her folks Simon was white because she didn't think it would matter.

It does, but not as much as the fact that he didn't tell her he'd just quit his high flying Wall Street job. Because this isn't a film about race, it's about male bonding and how men don't really understand women.

To which end, there's some amusing and mildly poignant moments such as the pair seeking forgiveness from their other halves that work a whole lot better than set pieces like Mac and Kutcher driving while the radio plays Ebony and Ivory.

Lame, limp, frequently idiotic and with several characters and whole chunks of plot patently left in the cutting room bin, it's just about passable enough to watch but being a fly on the wall when Demi brought Ashton home for family dinner would be a lot more interesting. HH

CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA CERT 15 90 MIN

Named for the UK's most popular curry to reflect the nation's cultural mixture, this agonisingly unfunny farce more accurately reflects the fact that the dish was invented here on the hoof to cater for bland British palates. But even the cheapest, most anaemic version has more spice and flavour than this lumpy mess!

Set in Preston and with characters marginally more paper thin than the cut-up figures of the opening credits, its improbably contrived plot features- I hesitate to use the term 'stars' - Chris Misson as Jimi who discovers his parents have fixed up for him to marry their friends' daughter.

Surprised to find himself engaged, he's even more taken aback to learn that, to be auspicious, the marriage has to take place within seven days. However, like Bisson's secret art student in East Is East, Jimi is keeping something from his folks. He's gay and in love with flatmate Jack (Peter Ash).

Torn between heart and familial duty, the scales are tipped by the fact dad (an unusually dreadful Saeed Jaffrey) has health problems and Jimi agrees to the wedding. But then, the families are misled into thinking Jimi already has a girlfriend, his sex-obsessed, alcoholic overweight brassy Northern landlady Vanessa (Sally Bankes), and that her young daughter is his child.

To Jimi's relief, the engagement's called off. But, since arrangements have already been made for the big day, his family then insist he marry the understandably reluctant Vanessa instead.

Looking every penny of its low budget, any potential for culture clash comedy or observations on the problems faced by second generation Anglo-Asians caught between honouring family tradition and pursuing their own lives is sabotaged by a poor script, unfocused direction and performances that range from painfully amateurish to, in the case of normally reliable veteran Zohra Segal, profoundly embarrassing. About as appealing as last night's soggy naan. H

CAPTION(S):

Kevin Bacon is one of the few watchable members of the cast in the deeply unfunny Beauty Shop; Bernie Mac plays Percy in Guess Who
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 21, 2005
Words:2117
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