If the idea of yet another wedding-gathering movie feels less than inspired, "The Romantics" won't do much to dispel that notion. This sour spin on "My Best Friend's Wedding" (crossed with a pale dose of "The Big Chill") proves unsatisfying not only because of its unlikable characters and often contrived conflicts but for the thoroughly implausible bride and groom at its core. Though the film takes great pains to pinpoint the supposed attraction between the tragically handsome Tom ( Josh Duhamel) and the rich, single-minded Lila ( Anna Paquin), it doesn't take a psychic to predict the fate of this mismatched pair. If ever there were a couple not to root for, it's this one, though that may be the point.
Showing up the day before these ill-fated nuptials are a band of egocentric, party-hearty college friends self-dubbed the Romantics, for, we're told, their "incestuous dating history," but the movie's literary pretensions (it goes heavy on the Keats) might indicate otherwise. In addition to Romantics "family" members Tom and Lila, the conflicted clique consists of restless marrieds Tripler ( Malin Akerman) and Pete (Jeremy Strong); soon-to-be-wed Jake ( Adam Brody, always welcome) and Weesie (Rebecca Lawrence); and Laura ( Katie Holmes), frenemy Lila's maid of honor and, more significantly, Tom's old girlfriend.
Laura's still-smoldering torch for the dazed Tom — and vice-versa — threatens to burn down the whole wedding, setting off a series of raw emotional exchanges, bad behaviors and boozy antics, not to mention a rehearsal dinner so excruciating it borders on parody.
Unfortunately, director Galt Niederhoffer, who also wrote the slack script (based on her novel), keeps us at such arm's length from her characters, which also include Lila's formidable mother ( Candice Bergen) and jauntily messed-up brother (a miscast Elijah Wood), we're left knowing — or caring — little about any of them and, consequently, the seaside wedding at the center of it all.
The one exception is Laura, a sort of Princess of Darkness still wallowing in the pseudo-profundity of her college heyday. Her reverie-laden love for Tom offers enough stirring, evocative sentiment to make her a compelling counterpoint to the one-noters around her. Holmes brings a convincing well of longing and fury to the dicey part, so much so that when former lifeguard Tom compares the roiling Laura to his fear of the ocean, we buy it. But it's one of the few configurations that ring true in this otherwise lackluster affair.