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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'80s Flick Sings a Tame '50s Lullaby




The Wedding Singer," the 1998 soundtrack sales tool playing this week at the American House of Cinema and the Cinema Center, takes the viewer through a bewildering time warp. Not because it's set in 1985; but because we end up in 1959.


The film is a romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler (of "Saturday Night Live" fame) and Drew Barrymore (scion of America's most celebrated acting dynasty). As written by Tim Herlihy and directed by Frank Coraci, it seems to be aiming for a cross between those often-charming '80s teen flicks ("Sixteen Candles," "Say Anything," "The Breakfast Club") and their sometimes-witty '90s successors ("Clueless," and, er -- that's about it).


But whether by design or by sheer accident, what results is a recapitulation of those Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles of yore: a tame, safe, sweet "situation comedy" that goes through its glaringly marked paces with all the verve and spontaneity of a Byzantine court ritual.


The film's mildness is more to be admired than not, of course; most "youth movies" are just loud, obnoxious expressions of the filmmakers' deep-rooted contempt for the intelligence and well-being of their target audience. On the other hand, tedium is not really that much of an improvement over stupidity.


Sandler plays the lead character, a kind, sweet, easy-going romantic who just wants to marry his girlfriend and settle down, doggone it. His name is Robbie Hart (get it? Hart, get it?), and as the movie opens, he's planning that wedding of his dreams while singing at other people's weddings for a living. He's got a sideman named George who dresses just like Boy George (get it? George?), a sleazy best friend who dresses just like Michael Jackson, and a co-worker at the reception hall who dresses just like Madonna.


Then a new waitress shows up: the even kinder, sweeter, easier-going Julia (Barrymore). She's engaged to be married too. But we soon (like, right away) begin to suspect that neither Robbie nor Julia are engaged to the right person. Hey, maybe they should get together! But how? Herlihy and Coraci admit the usual impediments to this marriage of true minds, with a series of merry mix-ups and poignant heart-tuggers. We won't give away the ending, but we will tell you that Billy Idol (the real Billy Idol!) plays a pivotal role. That ought to wet your whistle.


For a movie supposedly immersed in its distinctive time period (if nothing else, the mid-1980s were distinctive), "The Wedding Singer" seems curiously lackadaisical about its historical recreation. Only the most obvious, hackneyed "period" touches are used: Madonna, Boy George, Michael Jackson (see above), a lame bit about "these weird new things called CDs," some big hairdos, and that's about it. Even Doris and Rock were more engaged with the world about them.


There is the music, of course; every scene change brings a new snippet of some old "classic" of the era. Coraci borrows from (or perhaps rips off) John Hughes for many of his effects: When it's time to evoke bittersweet sadness, for example, the soundtrack cues the Psychedelic Furs, just like Hughes used to do for Molly Ringwald.


As for the acting, well, as the lead, affable Adam is no Molly. He is better than Judd Nelson or Andrew McCarthy, though. Meanwhile, Barrymore's acting talent is about 20 miles above this lame schmaltz, and she gives a little spark to Coraci's occasionally diverting trifle.