Katherine Heigl is who Charlize Theron wants to be when she dresses down. That's not a comment on Heigl's talent (we still don't know if she's any kind of actress) or on Theron's, for that matter (we know she is). But Heigl has the normal good looks that Theron descends from Olympus to pull off when she's playing deathly San Franciscans or sexually harassed miners. Heigl is not a goddess. She's very appealing but not chic or cool, which for so-so romantic comedies is an advantage. She isn't slumming, so you believe in her.
Heigl has a regular part on TV's "Grey's Anatomy," and her first movie since playing Seth Rogen's baby mama in "Knocked Up" is "27 Dresses," a sporadically entertaining cupcake of a movie. She plays Jane, a perennial bridesmaid/matron of honor (27 times!) who openly longs for a wedding of her own. Jane is practical, responsible, and a bit single-minded. When she gets her Sunday paper, she skips right past the other sections and goes straight to the Vows department. That's her idea of news.
The first batch of scenes is a giddy whirlwind. Jane is somehow serving in two concurrent ceremonies, and she hires a taxi to shuttle her between them. The movie conflates the two, cutting back and forth as if the separate events were one, with Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" holding it all together. We see the blissfully banal rituals (the YMCA, the electric slide, the speeches, the brides who need their dresses held while they go to the bathroom.) Heigl is at the center of the madness, smiling, stressing, rolling her eyes. This is fun. It's almost as well engineered a sequence as that montage in "Wedding Crashers" where Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson drink, dance, and score.
But "27 Dresses" is determined to go downhill from there. It promptly becomes a plain old romantic comedy. The movie makes way for Jane's sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), an azure-eyed blond who, predictably enough, is a nincompoop, to steal the man Jane loves but hasn't told. It's George (Edward Burns), her boss. Soon George and Tess are engaged, and guess who's planning the wedding. Meanwhile, Jane is being hounded by Kevin (James Marsden), the cute newspaper reporter on the weddings beat. He hates his job and figures Jane's life as a bridesmaid would make for the sort of feature that could catapult him out of the "taffeta ghetto." Of course, Kevin is secretly writing about her while pretending to cover Tess's wedding. The movie is as overwritten as it sounds.
Heigl and Marsden are good together, nonetheless - never more so than when they drunkenly belt out "Bennie and the Jets" atop a bar. He's got an interesting face - all sharp, small features. It's like a caricature of movie-star handsomeness. In "Enchanted," you buy him as a joke on Prince Charming, but you'd never buy him as the prince himself. That is, of course, his romantic appeal: He comes in under the radar.
The movie has a number of good, tough scenes, a few of which are at Jane's expense. In one, she walks into a restaurant and the waiters unfurl a banner that says "Will you marry me?," some musicians start playing that insipid romantic restaurant music, and she almost dies. When George tells them to stop -"She's not the one. She's not the one." - Jane almost dies again. You feel for her. And then you don't. Who could so desperately love a man as dull as Edward Burns? His dreaminess is like a studio backdrop. You pull away the gorgeous imagery, and there's a wall.
There's a decent movie in here somewhere. Sometimes it's just vulgar enough, thanks in large part to Judy Greer, who, as Jane's randy best friend, is the Thelma Ritter of this operation. But the director, Anne Fletcher, and the screenwriter, Aline Brosh McKenna, who did such a smart job adapting "The Devil Wears Prada," have made a ditsy single-chick movie with the alluring geometry of a screwball comedy. The movie's kiss of death comes when Jane tries on the 27 dresses for Kevin in the sort of exasperatingly cute montage that Raven-Symoné and Miley Cyrus seem way too old to try. Who exactly is this movie for?
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.