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'Big Wedding' parts far greater than its whole ★★

The diversions in the ensemble comedy "The Big Wedding" (that title flat enough for you?) are strictly actor-related, which is usually the case at the movies. For example, the way Diane Keaton selects an asparagus spear at a country club buffet while delivering some dutiful expositional something or other. Or the rumpled panache with which Robert De Niro, playing the Keaton character's ex-husband, adapts to a different sort of role than he's used to playing: that of the unreliable horndog trying to get by on charm.

The movie's own brand of charm has its subset of smarm. Part bedroom farce, part heart-tugging familial dysfunction, "The Big Wedding" was adapted by writer-director Justin Zackham from the 2006 French-Swiss co-production "Mon Frere se Marie."

In the original, a well-to-do Swiss couple's adopted Vietnamese son is readying a marriage. The son's birth mother, long out of the picture, travels to reunite with young Vinh for the wedding. Cultural differences and narrative circumstances require Vinh's adoptive parents, long divorced, to fake that they're still together.

Some aspects of the earlier film remain; others have been changed or added. In "The Big Wedding," De Niro's Philip Rothesque sculptor character is living with a caterer (Susan Sarandon), a longtime family friend. The adopted Colombian-born son, Alejandro (Ben Barnes), has two siblings, the now-grown children born to De Niro's character and Keaton's. The daughter (Katherine Heigl) has a secret, though the first sign of flulike symptoms gives it away; the son (Topher Grace), a 29-year-old virgin ready for love, takes one look at Alejandro's visiting birth sister (Ana Ayora) and thinks, well, it wouldn't quite be incestuous if … ; meanwhile, everyone's dithering over the quietly fearsome Catholic presence of Alejandro's mom.

This is an American movie trying, strenuously, to "swing" a little. The slapstick is broad and generally awkward. Five minutes into the picture, Keaton stumbles upon De Niro and Sarandon in a sex act in the kitchen, and it's like: Whoa. Have we met? Could we get another 10 minutes of setup, please? "Hyde Park on Hudson" made a similar mistake and never quite recovered.

What makes it passably entertaining is the interaction between the stars, usually when the pressure to "deliver" is off, and the banter sticks to a confidential key. Like "La Cage aux Folles," "The Big Wedding" preaches tolerance and understanding. It's too early to say if director Zackham has real talent, beyond that for assembling an impressive cast. The surest thing that can be said of "The Big Wedding" is that you've seen worse ensemble wedding comedies. But for the record: "Jumping the Broom" was a lot better.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'Big Wedding' -- 2 stars
MPAA rating:
R (for language, sexual content and brief nudity)
Running time: 1:30
Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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