The Happy Couple 

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn unite in Wedding Crashers

< So far this decade there have been at least nine Hollywood comedies to star at least two of the following five actors: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, and Vince Vaughn. The media have lately dubbed this gaggle of actors the "Frat Pack," a moniker probably inspired by the Vaughn-Ferrell-Luke Wilson frat farce Old School, but one that makes them sound dumber and less engaging than they actually are.

At their best, these actors make broad, high-concept comedies that are brighter, funnier, and sunnier than the bleak Rob Schneider vehicles and Saturday Night Live spin-offs they get lumped in with. (Ferrell is an SNL graduate, but his star so exceeds other SNLers of his generation that lumping him into that comic category seems too limiting.) Still, these films function better as a collection of moments than as full-fledged movies and work best when they stay true to the comic ethos made famous by Seinfeld: "No hugging. No learning."

Wedding Crashers, which stars Vaughn and Owen Wilson as a pair of divorce mediators who spend "wedding season" every year infiltrating ceremonies to romance horny bridesmaids, boasts the funniest trailers of the year. But if you've seen enough of these kinds of movies, you still fear that Wedding Crashers will scrap its surefire premise to make room for a drearily conventional plot. You worry that the good times can't last with hugging and learning on the horizon.

In Wedding Crashers, this fear is only halfway fulfilled. The film does indeed dispatch its comically fertile premise early on, in 20 minutes of giddy, satisfying montage that ends with Wilson's and Vaughn's respective prey being twirled from the dance floor to the bedroom. Wilson's and Vaughn's characters prepare for "wedding season" the way some guys prepare for fantasy baseball - brushing up on the peculiar rules and customs of their chosen hobby, scouting wedding announcements for choice nuptials to attend, preparing pseudonyms and back stories to deploy, handicapping the quality of the food and liquor.

And though the chance to woo romantically primed women for one night of dishonest sex (using such tactics as dancing with the flower girls, making balloon animals for kids, and forcing fake tears at the "I do" moments to charm prospective targets) is the ostensible goal, you also get the sense that their excitement over wedding season runs deeper: It's not just the women they crave but the weddings themselves, which really are the best and happiest parties. As Vaughn says to one of his soon-to-be-divorced clients, it doesn't matter if the band's any good, because music is in the air, and everyone is happy.

Wedding Crashers takes knowing shots at wedding culture (Wilson and Vaughn take side bets on which Bible verse a bridesmaid is about to read), but it also revels in the rituals. These guys seem as drunk on booze and finger food, ethnic customs and dancing (always, at the end, to "Shout!") and loopy fellowship, as much as on the promise of bedding a bridesmaid.

Wedding Crashers could have spent the whole movie following Wilson and Vaughn to one wedding after another without thought to character development and left me happy, but instead it does exactly what you fear, exchanging its undeniable premise for a sketchy, familiar plot: Wilson falls for a bridesmaid at one wedding, where another bridesmaid (they're sisters, natch) falls for Vaughn. Somehow they make it work. Mostly.

Credit is due to the Wedding Crashers' women, who are equal matches for the male stars in a way women rarely are in these movies. Rachel McAdams is suitably winning as Wilson's straight-(wo)man love interest, charming him - and us - when she stifles giggles at her big sis' wedding as the "sailing enthusiast" groom exchanges self-written vows with his "first mate." But Isla Fisher, as the enthusiastic paramour Vaughn tries to rid himself of until, of course, he falls hard for her, is the real treat, bum-rushing the boys club with a movie-stealing performance of unabashed sexiness, uninhibited goofiness, and crazy-eyed zeal. She needs to become a "Frat Pack" regular, stat.

Of course, Wilson and Vaughn, direct partners on screen for the first time, help things along with their own chemistry, matching easygoing with tightly wound, Wilson's beach-bum sunniness with Vaughn's maniacal true-believer seriousness in the face of even the most outrageous situations.

There may not be individual moments in Wedding Crashers quite as guffaw-inducing as the best moments from such "Frat Pack" standouts as Old School and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but outside of The Royal Tenenbaums (an obvious ringer) or maybe Meet the Parents, it's the best overall film of the bunch.

In the end, the two sides of Wedding Crashers' personality - the irredeemable premise and the redemption-based plot - can't quite connect: Good-girl McAdams melting for Wilson moments after he admits to cruising funerals for easy play rings false. But a few other missteps aside (including an unfortunate subplot with McAdams' and Fisher's surly gay brother), getting there is a winning ride, making Wedding Crashers probably the best mainstream comedy of the year.

- Chris Herrington

Imagine, if you will, that you live a tightly controlled life: You have a diet that is monitored with each bathroom release and you work a meaningless job you neither understand nor enjoy. Everybody seems to be wearing the same outfit, sexual contact is forbidden, and your only source of introspection is your regular visit to the company shrink. That said, I imagine there are some readers out there for whom this happens to be true. Truer still is that there are those whose daily aspirations revolve around the prospects of winning the lottery. For the rest of you, agreeable escapist entertainment can be found with The Island.

Ewan McGregor is Lincoln Six Echo, a clone (shhh ... don't tell him he's a clone. He doesn't know.) living in a large beachside facility he believes is one of the last refuges from a great contamination that has destroyed all life on Earth. His life is a simple one, consisting of regulated food, mindless work, and impeccable exercise. And yet, this is not enough for Lincoln. He questions. He wonders. He's curious. One day he finds a bug in a boiler room and is fascinated. Bugs are supposed to be extinct. What gives? Surely the government isn't lying to him.

Scarlett Johansson is sexy lady clone Jordan Two Delta, friend to Lincoln and latest winner of the lottery. This lottery owes more to Shirley Jackson's sinister short story than to Powerball, and in a key and suspenseful early scene, Lincoln discovers the nefarious truth behind the winnings and manages to escape the facility with Jordan in tow. The escape is reminiscent of the old joke about the Polish Navy having a submarine with a screen door in that this facility that is so regulated and secure has an easily accessible boiler room with a conspicuous exit into the real world. But never you mind that.

The real world, as it turns out, is 2019 United States. Fast rocket motorcycles, electromagnetic monorails, and the latest Microsoft all abound, and Lincoln and Jordan quickly learn (via help from the adorably scummy Steve Buscemi) that they must find the people from whom they were cloned in order to figure out their destinies and escape their pursuers. But the malevolent Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), who is responsible for their cloning and the poor ethics behind it, has employed expert bounty hunter Albert Laurent (imposing Djimon Hounsou) to track them down at all costs.

Director Michael Bay, responsible for some of modern moviegoing's most reprehensible entertainment (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor), actually acquits himself (somewhat) of years of tasteless exploitation by imbuing his trademark car chases and sun-drenched, almost pornographic cinematography on an intelligent premise and clever execution. Little distinguishes this from other, better science fiction, but with the classy cast (including Michael Clarke Duncan as Starkweather), you have at least a clone of a good time.


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