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Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2003

One-way ticket to a headache

Just Married

Rating: * * (out of 5)
Director: Shawn Levy
Running time: 94 minutes
Language: English
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

"The honeymoon should be taken out and shot," says one of my girlfriends, who feels this custom should be deleted from the modern marriage. Her reasons are simple: 1) Normal couples are too exhausted from the wedding to enjoy it; 2) Normal couples can't handle all that emphasis on happiness and sex. This particular friend kept throwing up the whole week on her honeymoon to New Mexico and was then forced to find a doctor and do the paperwork herself, all because her husband couldn't (or wouldn't) speak English. By the time they got back to Tokyo, the words "Narita Divorce" were flashing in her head in bright neon.

News photo
Brittany Murphy and Ashton Kutcher in "Just Married"

"Just Married" is designed for my girlfriend and the millions of people like her who have reason to suspect that the honeymoon is a disastrous undertaking for any couple happily in love: a premise that shows so much promise. Alas, however, "Just Married" quickly goes flat in the manner of bad champagne -- there's just no lifting this failed screwball from the muck and mud of bad comedy. In fact, the picture does the spiral descent into sheer embarrassment, and there's nothing even gradual about it, either.

The single bright light in this failed party is the presence of Brittany Murphy, whose sugary blonde charm contrasts interestingly with a husky voice and a certain cynicism of manner, setting her apart from other pretty faces. Her track record includes such notables as "Riding in Cars with Boys" and more recently "8 Mile," in which she played Eminem's girlfriend. Murphy had carved out a rep for her willingness to take on quirky, demanding roles, but this vehicle doesn't seem to want anything out of her except her pissed-off look. This entails wedging a frown line smack in the middle of her eyebrows and shrieking a lot, and not much else.

Murphy plays Sarah, a Beverly Hills rich kid who meets and immediately falls for radio traffic-announcer Tom Leezak (Ashton Kutcher). She introduces him to the family, has the wedding and embarks on what will be a nightmare manufactured in sitcom hell. On their very first night in a hotel in the Swiss Alps, Tom has an accident with the electrical socket (after trying to charge the battery of their vibrator) and they're evicted. In Venice, they stay in a pension with tissue-thin walls and giant cockroaches. Their rented car breaks down. At night, they're either too ticked off or exhausted to make love, and one or the other is always fretting that "not once since our marriage did we have sex." Finally, Tom goes off to an American sports bar to watch a Dodgers game and Sarah runs into her ex at a Tintoretto exhibition.

At this point, one can only sit in wonder trying to figure out why these two decided to get hitched in the first place (no common interests, no animal attraction) -- but on the other hand, one is too tired to care. The harder "Just Married" tries to be funny (read: one too many flatulence jokes), the further it recedes from anything that merits big-screen filmmaking. Murphy seems to be suffering from a genuine headache as she wanders around Europe in a daze of discontent.

Kutcher is also deserving of sympathy, as he's made to fall with a thud from every sofa and bed in the worst tradition of slapstick. Even the depiction of Europe is unfunny and sometimes offensive -- insisting on the inconveniences of the old cities, the backwardness of the people and, oh, the appalling lack of English-speakers. Maybe this is what Mr. Rumsfeld referred to as "Old Europe."

Still, much could have been forgiven if only the movie had ended on a different note. After all the disputes, the violence, the abuse and the crimes committed against each other (and the audience), could it be possible for two people to make up and live happily ever after, even in gravity-defying Hollywood? Could it be possible to shell out 1,800 yen for such an experience? Depressingly, the answer is "yes" on both counts. The only thing that would cheer me at this point is the thought of a sequel: "Just Divorced," in which the characters discard their Ralph Lauren ensembles for, say, army fatigues and face each other through a bulletproof partition.

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