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"JUST MARRIED"
(2003) (Ashton Kutcher, Brittany Murphy) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: A newly married couple's honeymoon goes wrong in all sorts of ways.
PLOT:
Tom Leezak (ASHTON KUTCHER) and Sarah McNerney (BRITTANY MURPHY) couldn't be more different. He's an unrefined, late-night radio traffic reporter who hangs out with his buddy Kyle (DAVID MOSCOW) and enjoys driving his vintage muscle car. She works at Sotheby's and comes from an ultra-wealthy family.

Yet, as is often the case, they meet and fall in love. Much to the dismay of her parents (DAVID RASCHE & VERONICA CARTWRIGHT) and siblings including Lauren (MONÉT MAZUR), the two get married and head off to Europe for their honeymoon.

From that point on, they must contend with one comically disastrous mishap after another. That includes the appearance of Sarah's ex-beau, Peter Prentiss (CHRISTIAN KANE) who may or may not be pursuing her, and Sarah's belief that Tom's hooked up with bar-hopper Wendy (VALERIA).

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
To those who've never been married, the thought of the first months of such a union are usually of wedded bliss, what with the honeymoon, moving in together and, in increasingly common occurrences, double incomes. Those who've been there, however, know the truth. The first year of marriage is usually the toughest as each partner gets used to the other's behavior and idiosyncrasies, and as the relationship transitions from courting romance to maintaining what often becomes something akin to a business relationship or peace treaty.

That's probably why most romantic comedies focus on single rather than married couples. Of course, there are plenty of comedic possibilities in the latter group, as long as the material is handled just right. Part of that involves making the participants likeable and their strife and turmoil funny and charming rather than uncomfortable and irritating.

Charm and some good-natured laughs are what the romantic comedy "Just Married" has going for it, although neither is in enough abundant supply to make the film anything remotely along the lines of a genre classic.

Part of that stems from the fact that the cast and crew are obviously trying too hard to make this an appealing screwball type comedy. As written by Sam Harper ("Rookie of the Year") and directed by Shawn Levy ("Big Fat Liar"), the film mostly focuses on Tom and Sarah's honeymoon or, more appropriately, the Honeymoon from Hell.

While the premise is loaded with potential, the filmmakers aren't terribly imaginative or clever when it comes to taking advantage of it. Told mostly in flashback, the film starts off on the wrong foot, despite the storytelling intentions.

Returning to the States, the characters played by Ashton Kutcher ("Texas Rangers," "Dude, Where's My Car?") and Brittany Murphy ("8 Mile," "Don't Say a Word") are purposefully antagonistic and even violent with each other on the concluding leg of their honeymoon. Although the intent is for such actions to be funny and make us wonder what could have led to them acting this way, the initial result is that we don't like them (since the execution is off and we have no history with them yet).

The filmmakers should have bypassed the flashback structure and simply proceeded in a linear fashion - so that we don't know how things will turn out (as if that's really a big mystery considering the genre) - starting with the two characters meeting.

We eventually see that, but the romance is truly whirlwind, as the filmmakers want to get to the main attraction as fast as possible. In doing so, they shortchange the supporting characters - in this case David Moscow ("Riding in Cars With Boys," "Big") as the groom's best friend and Monét Mazur ("40 Days and 40 Nights," "Angel Eyes") as the bride's sister - who are usually important for advancing the story or at least generating some of the laughs.

They also borrow a bit too much from "There's Something About Mary" (the dog out the window scene) and "Meet the Parents" (including the bride's former but wealthy beau still being around and friends with her father, as well as a profane term used as a character's name for intended laughs). Unfortunately, the results aren't as funny.

All of which leaves us, and the film, with the honeymoon and its various disastrous escapades and occurrences. I'll admit to laughing at a few of them, but most miss the mark and make one wish that they had been smarter or more creative in concept and execution (including playing more off the couple's clashing traits and/or the European setting).

Many of the antics revolve around them not having much success in consummating their legal union, and a certain segment of the target audience will likely enjoy the bawdy humor. Like the rest of the film, however, it's just not imaginative enough (let alone realistic, but that's not really the point), to make it work as well as it could and should have.

As far as the performances are concerned, it's really just a three-person show with Christian Kane ("Life or Something Like It," "Summer Catch") joining Kutcher and Murphy for the antics. He's not as much fun as Owen Wilson in the similar role from "Meet the Parents," and embodies nothing more than a caricature like the rest of the performers.

The leads try their best to make something of their characters, but they have little with which to make that happen. That said, they appear to have had fun playing the parts (during which they reportedly became a real-life item, thus the decent onscreen chemistry) and part of that rubs off on the viewer. Unfortunately, there's not enough of that or decent laughs to make the picture a winning effort. While not bad enough to warrant a divorce, "Just Married" isn't the fun or funny union that it might have been. It rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 1, 2003 / Posted January 10, 2003


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