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'Our Family Wedding'

This comedy starring America Ferrera and Lance Gross fails to address race issues, settling instead for tired jokes.

March 12, 2010|By BETSY SHARKEY | Film Critic

Instead of invitations, they should be sending out apologies for "Our Family Wedding," a cake-and-kisses comedy that has disaster written all over it and not for the right reasons. Race as much as romance is at the heart of the matter with director Rick Famuyiwa playing that card in nearly every scene -- and a card shark he is not.

The film stars America Ferrera, who's finishing her final lap on ABC's "Ugly Betty," and Lance Gross, a resident of Tyler Perry's "House of Payne," as the secretly betrothed Lucia and Marcus. In case no one notices that she is Hispanic and he is African American, Lucia's grandmother (Lupe Ontiveros) is there to screech, "He's black!" then faint dead away.

The film kicks off with what amounts to an emotional drive-by, with the couple traveling to L.A. to meet the parents and get married on the fly. The reason for the rush turns out to be another bit of bad news, at least as far as Lucia's family is concerned, destroying a few more hopes and dreams.

But the central conflict and the movie's problems actually start hours before that first family gathering, because the real couple wreaking havoc on the way to the altar will be the dads, Brad Boyd and Miguel Ramirez, played by Forest Whitaker and stand-up comic Carlos Mencia.

They even get the movie's meet-cute moment -- Brad's vintage Aston Martin is parked in a loading zone and Miguel is manning the tow truck that's about to haul it away. But instead of hilarity ensuing, Miguel and Brad pull out nearly every racial slight in the book, a lot of half-baked slapstick and even more macho posturing in an effort to entertain.

As it happens, slapstick and slurs don't complement each other well, and machismo humor seems way past its prime, but the filmmakers stay with that strategy until the bitter end, throwing in everything but the piƱata.

Weddings are notorious for bringing out the worst in people, and this one is no exception, with everyone in both families eager to sort through their dirty laundry in public. There is also the typical assortment of wedding-related problems -- the dress, the venue, the seating arrangements, the onslaught of crazy relatives and, of course, the cost.

The real cost, though, is the wasted opportunity to take a smart cut at a subject so thematically rich and so rarely explored by Hollywood. Instead, the warring families, the interracial romance, the inherent cultural clashes and the socio-economic divide of middle versus upper class are squandered.

It feels like a step back for Famuyiwa, who shares writing credit with Wayne Conley and Malcolm Spellman. The filmmaker's last romantic comedy, 2002's "Brown Sugar" starring Sanaa Lathan and Taye Diggs, drifted toward too sweet at times but kept the cynicism at bay. Here, it's a five-layer cake with a brown and black bride and groom on the top.

With all its flaws, "Our Family Wedding" is not going to be the film that proves Ferrera can make the transition to big-screen star either. It will take more than a better-dressed, braces-free version of the quirky cute "Betty," which is all that is asked of her here.

Long before the priest gets to the "Do you take" question, someone should have stepped in and said, "I don't."

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