"Bride Wars"

Catfight alert! Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson battle for the bouquet in this wedding comedy.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Published January 9, 2009 11:29AM (EST)

 There's no use getting worked up about "Bride Wars," a bizarrely retrograde comedy about two lifelong friends -- played by Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway -- who, since they were tiny tots, have dreamed of one day getting married at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Not to each other, mind you -- now that would be a movie. No, it has always been the ambition of Emma (Hathaway) and Liv (Hudson) to be brides. Along the way to adulthood they've picked up careers: Emma is an elementary-school teacher, though we never see her with any actual kids; Liv is an ambitious, high-powered lawyer who seems to earn a fat salary by doing little more than appraising her clients with haughty, heavy-lidded eyes.

But fulfilling jobs aren't what these two women want out of life. They barely even seem to want husbands. (Their prospective victims, Fletcher and Daniel, are played by Steve Howey and Chris Pratt; they stumble through the movie like deer sighted through the cross hairs.) Emma and Liv just want to be Princess for a Day, dammit. Which is why trouble ensues when a chichi wedding planner (played by Candace Bergen) accidentally books both of their Plaza dream weddings for the same day.

It's possible you could take that concept and turn it into a movie that's good, fluffy fun. It's also possible that putting barbecue skewers through your eyeballs might not be as painful as you expect -- but do you really want to try it? "Bride Wars" was directed by Gary Winick, whose track record includes the heartfelt romantic comedy "13 Going on 30" and the lovely 2005 adaptation of "Charlotte's Web." But "Bride Wars" -- written by Greg DePaul, Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael, from a story by DePaul -- barely seems to carry his touch. Even if you can get past the boneheaded premise, the picture feels halfhearted in its construction. It's both slack and bloated; I've been to Catholic wedding masses that had more zip. I think it clocked in at fewer than 90 minutes, but it seemed to last longer than most marriages do.

Once Liv and Emma realize that neither is going to budge on that Plaza booking (the venue's next open date is three years away), each begins plotting to sabotage the other's day. Here's Liv sneaking into a salon spray-tan booth to pull a switcheroo that will turn Emma the color of a mango. (Never mind that, strangely, Liv's own wedding-day tan looks almost as orange, particularly in contrast with Emma's ivory-porcelain skin.) Here's Emma undercover at the hairdresser's, swapping blue hair dye for Liv's usual sunny gold. These wily gals will stop at nothing; not since Lucy and Ethel pulled each other's identical tulle dresses to shreds while singing a song about friendship, have I seen such feral ruthlessness.

But their aggression toward each other isn't their fault -- they're just women, after all, empty-headed creatures naturally prone to impractical fantasies and vicious rivalries. (It's telling that -- and for those who care, I'm about to drop a small spoiler -- one of the grooms is made out, too handily, to be the bad guy, thus siphoning attention away from the women's childish behavior.) I'd like to say that Hudson and Hathaway are at least fun to watch, but they're not: Over the past few years Hudson has been dribbling away whatever talent she's got instead of developing it. Her trademark expression here is a too-cute squint: She squinches up her eyes to show how much determination and drive her character has. I won't give up on Hudson yet -- she's given fine performances in movies like "The Skeleton Key" and "Almost Famous" -- but her aggressive adorableness is quickly becoming the punch line to a tired joke.

Hathaway, on the other hand, has already proved she's capable of giving us much more than the fluttery Bambi-eyed routine in Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married." But in "Bride Wars," she's back to doing little more than blinking those impossibly huge peepers. She's not as wearying as Hudson is, but that's not saying much. "Bride Wars" ends with lots of tears, laughter and hugging of the BFF. These two deserve each other; they're a match made in hell.

Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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