"Marriage is like a phone call late at night," Robert De Niro says, in dulcet voice-over mode, at the outset of "The Big Wedding." "First comes the ring, and then you wake up."
Rim shot, please.
Except in Justin Zackham's sedated farce, there are no rim shots. The jokes are just splayed out there, accompanied by the strums of a guitar on the soundtrack.
Adapted from a 2006 French comedy and boasting a cross-generational cast of daunting and not-so-daunting stature, "The Big Wedding" throws up a messy web of relationships, a tangle of siblings and spouses, lovers and lunatics, intersecting in illicit and illogical ways.
In order to pull off this sort of business, the pace should be breakneck, there shouldn't be an extra second to contemplate the moral lapses and betrayals. Alas, "The Big Wedding," which inches along like a stoned snail, gives us all the time in the world.
Don and Ellie Griffin (De Niro and Diane Keaton) are a long-divorced couple whose adopted son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), is about to be married - to Amanda Seyfried's Missy. Don, a sculptor (and an apparently successful one: his house comes with a pool and overlooks a lake), lives with Bebe (Susan Sarandon), who was once Ellie's best friend.
Although Don and Bebe aren't married, she is like a loving stepmom to Don and Ellie's kids - Jared (Topher Grace), a closing-in-on-30 doctor who's still a virgin; Lyla (Katherine Heigel), a brooder who has just broken up with her beau; and Alejandro, who originally hailed from Colombia, and who has invited his biological mother (Patricia Rae) to the wedding.
Alejandro fears that she is too conservative and devout a woman to accept that his adoptive parents have divorced, so he convinces them to act as though they're still together. Which leaves Bebe out in the cold - although her company is catering the wedding.
Let's see, who's left? There is Nuria (Ana Ayora), Alejandro's frisky and fetching biological sister, who has accompanied her mom from South America. She takes one look at Jared, who is technically, if not genetically, her brother, and offers to deflower the guy. And there are Don and Ellie, who find themselves sharing a bed and, what do you know, still sharing a passion for one another. And then there are Missy's impossibly square (we think) parents, played by Christine Ebersole and David Rasche. And Robin Williams, as Father Moinighan, the Catholic priest who will preside over the ceremony.
Ensemble comedy overload!
Do you think many of the film's participants will wind up falling into the pool or the lake? Or both? And if you do, do you think they'll be fully dressed? Just know that Ayora (of course!) prefers skinny dipping.
As the randy, philandering patriarch, De Niro gets punched around more times than Jake LaMotta. Keaton brings her natural comedic talents to the proceedings, and Sarandon acquits herself with flair.
No one is bad in "The Big Wedding," but no one is remotely believable, either. Late in the game, Alejandro's Colombian mother cracks wise that all of this is like some crazy telenovela plot, and it is. Which is all fine and good in a screwball romp.
If only "The Big Wedding" played like one.
THE BIG WEDDING
• Rated: R for sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes.
• Director: Justin Zackham.
• Cast: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Robin Williams.
• Running time: 89 minutes.