A marriage easy on the eyes

27 Dresses stars the creamy Katherine Heigl as Jane, bridal hopeful, and the dreamy James Marsden as Kevin, wedding cynic. Here are actors radiating more star power than legally should be allowable in a movie so predictable that the audience knows what the characters will say before they do. Didn't see the "Benny and the Jets" karaoke coming, though.

Heigl is Jane, a Manhattan executive assistant whose biggest fear is that the saying "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" will prove prophetic.

Crammed inside her closet are 25 bridesmaid gowns suitable for Halloween. After a Saturday doubleheader where she shuttles between Manhattan and Brooklyn nuptials, performing double duty as planner and attendant, she needs to make room for two more. Call her the Wedding Masher.

Marsden (the jut-jawed Prince of Enchanted, Corny Collins in Hairspray) is Kevin, the guy who writes the "Commitments" column in the New York Journal and sees Jane everywhere. In private, if not in print, he is contemptuous of the "bridal industry" that emphasizes the nuptials at the expense of what happens after. Call him the Wedding Trasher.

Tired of the sideshow, Jane wants to be the main event. But instead of putting herself out there, like her best friend Casey (Judy Greer, with bitch-perfect tone), Jane pines for her boss, George (Ed Burns), who treats doormats better than his assistant. Predictably, George falls for Jane's younger sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), hot and flaky as Jane is cool and collected. Naturally, Tess, who has no trouble expressing what she wants, wants Jane to plan her wedding and buy that 28th attendant's dress.

It's hard to watch Heigl, a brusque honey blonde who exudes sexual confidence like no one since Carole Lombard, play second fiddle, however briefly. Yet since My Best Friend's Wedding, Hollywood has specialized in movie comedies where the heroine is repeatedly chastised by friends and family about how unassertive, wrongheaded and jerky she is. This occurs throughout 27 Dresses, and it occurs throughout The Devil Wears Prada, a much better and more ambiguous film by 27 Dresses scribe Aline Brosh McKenna.

Does the Hollywood comedy heroine have to be humiliated into self-awareness? "Avoiding humiliation is at the core of comedy and tragedy," noted playwright John Guare. But for heroines of Hollywood rom-coms, humiliation is unavoidable. In 27 Dresses, Jane is harshed for being selfless and harshed some more for being selfish. No self-respecting screenwriter would put a Hugh Grant character through what Heigl's endures here. I don't blame McKenna: I blame a studio system that figures if it worked for Julia Roberts, it will work for Heigl.

Much as I gnashed my teeth during 27 Dresses, I genuinely enjoyed the warmth of Heigl's and Marsden's confident ease. While both might be a few minutes past their star-is-born moment, these troupers with more than 30 years of professional work between them have never shone so brightly. It may sound contradictory, but loved them, hated it.

The film is competently directed by Anne Fletcher, the onetime choreographer who designed the love-in that climaxed The 40-Year-Old Virgin and made her directing debut with the inner-city dance-off Step Up.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/.

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