CRASHERS: Vaughn (left) and Wilson.
?“Wedding Crashers,” the Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn comedy vehicle, almost falls on top of itself with a sappy love story stuck in the middle of a movie that, at least for the first half hour or so, is pretty darn funny.
Would it be as funny with actors other than Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn? Maybe, but we think these guys are perfectly cast as Jeremy Grey (Vaughn) and John Beckwith (Wilson). Vaughn is laugh-out-loud funny most of the film, and even a surprise guest whose name I won’t disclose is funnier than usual as the guru of wedding crashers who first influenced Vaughn’s character in the art of crashing weddings and picking up the misty-eyed women in attendance.
Wilson, who needed another comedy running buddy besides Ben Stiller, and Vaughn, who’s done all he can with Jon Favreau, take a kind of “Swingers” attitude into “Wedding Crashers.” They apparently are lawyers, though we’re never sure — they have a lot of legal-looking books in their Washington, D.C., office. These two, who disdain conventional relationships with women, anticipate wedding season with the same kind of zeal other men have for football or baseball season. They pinpoint a dozen or so highbrow weddings to crash, hook up with beautiful women, and wear themselves out as the summer moves on.
This particular wedding season includes the marriage of the treasury secretary’s daughter to the son of another big political family. It’s a can’t-miss event for Jeremy and John.
The sisters of the bride turn out to be their targets. Jeremy makes quick headway with the kooky Gloria Cleary, while John is smitten in a different way by the classy Claire (Rachel McAdams, in essence reprising her easy-to-fall-for sweetheart role from “The Notebook”). Jeremy, sensing this and not wanting anything beyond a quick beach frolic with Gloria, urges his compadre to bolt.
The entire Cleary family, from the treasury secretary (Christopher Walken) and his wife (Jane Seymour as the Mrs. Robinson-esque horny, unfaithful wife) on down, is full of loons. The lone exception is Claire, who John soon learns has an arrogant steady beau. John remains determined to win her heart, and our party crashers, pretending to be venture capitalist brothers, are invited join the Cleary family at their Maryland coastal getaway for a painful game of touch football, crazy dinner conversation and even wackier bedroom scenes.
Where the movie nearly loses everyone is when John’s pursuit of Claire starts mimicking the “Notebook” love story of competition for her heart. All the hilarious earlier hijinks give way to schmaltz. McAdams’ striking beauty and a good comic turn by Isla Fisher as Gloria, however, make it tolerable, and the comedy regains its footing as it eases toward a likable finish.
We’d bet Vaughn and Wilson could have ad-libbed much of this movie, and Vaughn takes what he’s given from director David Dobkin and writers Steve Faber and Bob Fisher and creates a character that, while despicable in a lot of ways, also proves plenty likable. Wilson’s John is painted as far more vulnerable, and we can buy into his connection with McAdams’ Claire.
They don’t release these type films during Oscar season, but for a mid-summer laugh flick, it fits the bill fine.
— By Jim Harris
?? Remember being a kid in a candy store? The bright colors, whimsical designs and variety of confections were overwhelming. Director Tim Burton mimics this visual experience, distorted by an array of postmodern references that feed the director’s appetite for the bizarre. His flourishes range from sublime to shockingly cruel, but both ends of the spread are well spiced. His 1998 “Nightmare Before Christmas,” remains far and away Burton’s best work, but “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” from the book by British author Roald Dahl, seems to have re-energerized the director’s flights of fancy.
Sadly, it also re-establishes Burton’s lavish sentimentality. Whether depicting Charlie Bucket’s (Freddie Highmore) quaintly rundown abode, or the squirrels that Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) employs to shell his nuts, every scene has a gooey center that melts in your hand, not in your mouth. Bad children are bad apples fallen from diseased trees. They and their bungling parents must learn tough lessons that will help them become better people, while affirming the many reasons that poor, but decent folk — such as Charlie and his Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) — deserve every break that comes their way.
Burton and his screenwriter, John August of the dismal ‘’Big Fish,’’ have penned a backstory to explain that misfit Willy Wonka is one of those bad apples. Thanks to the chocolate maker’s candy-hating dad (Christopher Lee), who was also the lad’s sadistic dentist, Willy displays impeccable choppers, but he is an unsocialized fellow lacking even one human friend.
Wonka, lonely and suspicious, has embraced automation, trained animals and a contingent of tiny oompa-loompas (all played by Deep Roy), in order to eliminate people from his factory. Children everywhere dream of winning one of the five golden tickets that entitle the bearer to an exclusive tour of Wonka’s chocolate palace.
Tickets are won by a candyholic German boy, a super-rich English brat, an American girl holding the record for continuous gum-chewing, and a punkish video game champion. This leaves just one unclaimed ticket that Charlie’s family squanders precious resources trying to win. Then, Charlie finds a magical one-pound note in the street, and buys the Wonka bar containing the final ticket.
The opening collection of vignettes, contrasting the extreme flaws of each ticket-winning child with the caring nature of Charlie’s family, is the film’s most engaging passage, and is notably Depp-free. Rarely has an actor of Depp’s insight and caliber so unfortunately misjudged a characterization. His pasty face, androgynous make-up and form-fitting clothes recall Michael Jackson to a disturbing degree, but Depp also affects the King of Pop’s fey behavior and high-pitched voice.
Each child brings a guardian along on the tour, and each guardian appears unconcerned that the horrors befalling the other children could also befall his own. A few of the factory imaginings are memorable, but generally the film functions as an unpleasant cautionary tale: Avoid narcissistic men surrounding themselves with the trappings of childhood fantasy.
— By Lisa Miller