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Shotgun Wedding Review: Hallmark Meets Die Hard

  • Hilarious supporting cast, who breathe life into wedding comedy cliches
  • The mash-up of Captain Phillips and Ticket to Paradise we never knew we needed
  • The central storyline is far less engaging than the hostage comedy
  • J-Lo feels surprisingly miscast in the central role

One of the only positive outcomes of Hollywood's post-pandemic crisis is the unexpected revival of the big-screen, A-list romcom, with the likes of "Marry Me," "The Lost City," and "Ticket to Paradise" charming audiences worldwide throughout their lucrative box office runs. Having the genre back on our screens has been such a tonic that we're unprepared for the current moment when their simple narrative formulas are already starting to show signs of growing stale once again.

For further proof, look no further than "Shotgun Wedding," which takes the star of "Marry Me," Jennifer Lopez, and throws her into an action-driven romp reminiscent of "The Lost City," which takes place in a similar glamorous location as "Ticket to Paradise." There are many simple pleasures with the latest J-Lo vehicle, but that doesn't mean it won't be long before you start getting déjà vu with its central plot. In fact, as I found myself watching it, I became both more amused and invested by the plot unfolding around the secondary characters, becoming equally disappointed every time we cut away to our central couple's rescue mission. It may be an ingeniously conceived comic plot, but the moment I realized I only cared about the hostage situation taking place entirely within a swimming pool, any intentions of investing in the central relationship quickly fell apart.

You'll love the wedding guests more than the central couple themselves

Before we get to that point in the action, let's rewind to the start. Darcy (Jennifer Lopez) and Tom (Josh Duhamel) have led their friends and family to an exotic island resort in the Philippines for what they hope will be the ultimate destination wedding. In this introductory stretch, all the boxes an audience has come to expect from a marriage comedy are ticked off, from the quirky family members interacting with their new in-laws to the unexpected arrival of one of the engaged couple's exes (which, in this case, is the impossibly handsome Sean, an elevated parody of the unproblematic ex-boyfriend played winningly by Lenny Kravitz). At this point, the whole premise felt disconcertingly overfamiliar, leaving me slightly anxious that the following 90 minutes were going to wheel out the same old cliches and aim to blow cobwebs off tired jokes and character archetypes.

Luckily, a spanner is suddenly thrown in the works in the form of Darcy and Tom having a massive argument on the morning of their nuptials. Coming to a blow, they decide to call things off and head back to their families to warn them of the news — only to discover that men with guns are now on the island and are taking hostages. Back at the hotel, these pirates have held everybody at gunpoint in the swimming pool, hoping to take off with their money. Their only chance of being saved lies with the bickering couple accepting their differences and working together to get back to them, fighting back against every adversary in their way.

It's a pretty winning formula for a high-concept rom-com, even though the film is at its best when it's at its most grounded: stuck firmly within the swimming pool, and letting its quirky batch of mismatched supporting characters bounce off each other. It plays out as if George Clooney and Julia Roberts' luxury getaway in "Ticket to Paradise" got suddenly invaded by the pirates from "Captain Phillips," with all the biggest laughs coming from the wide array of absurd reactions to a tension-filled life-or-death situation. Kravitz's Sean initially tries to play the hero, but his too-good-to-be-true façade is almost immediately shown up; Tom's mom Carol (Jennifer Coolidge) aims to defuse the situation by befriending the attackers, and others are ignoring the tension altogether. For Darcy's sister Jamie (Callie Hernandez), being held hostage pales in comparison to the pure embarrassment of sleeping with the nerdy best man the night before.

An oddly miscast central duo

Not a single one of these character archetypes breaks the mold of what we come to expect from a wedding comedy, where mismatched members of different families are thrown together all the time, but putting them all at gunpoint and trapping them in what should be paradise enlivens an otherwise stale formula. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the central plot, which despite its high concept premise is the most nakedly conventional aspect of the film: a standard shoot-em-up where the intended gag (unlikely action heroine proves skilled with a shotgun) falls flat due to the number of times we've seen Lopez assume this role onscreen before.

In practice, the joke also feels derivative of those surrounding the Rachel McAdams character in the excellent "Game Night," where she played a typical housewife who turned out to have an unexpected talent for sending people to their deaths. On multiple occasions, Lopez feels like she's very deliberately channeling that performance, with every deadpan reaction to each gruesome death unfolding in front of her paling in comparison to McAdams sighing "oh no, he died" as she sent a hitman flying into a plane propeller. Lopez is too naturally badass in such a role to ever register as an out-of-depth person finding an unexpected calling, feeling surprisingly miscast in a role that on paper sounds like it was written specifically for her.

Opposite her, Duhamel barely registers as a comedic presence and is an odd replacement for the film's original male lead: Ryan Reynolds, who stayed on board the project as an executive producer. As tired as Reynolds' sarcastic wit now is, it's not hard to picture many more of the jokes on this side of the storyline landing with him onscreen, opposite a far-less-conventional action heroine. We can believe Lopez can take down anybody in her path — heck, her next starring role after this, the Netflix thriller "The Mother," will also see her play a machine gun-toting woman doing everything she can to protect her family. The simple central joke would land much easier if the production had cast an actress we assume has a much clumsier trigger finger.

Luckily, the other half of "Shotgun Wedding" is devoted equal time onscreen, meaning the laugh count remains high even as the central storyline falls flatter than it should. It's an entertaining addition to the modern rom-com canon, even as it's the clearest sign yet that fatigue with the genre's familiarity is already starting to creep back in.

"Shotgun Wedding" premieres on Amazon Prime Video on January 27.