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Movie review, 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'

Ethnic caricatures abound in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," an airy Cinderella story about a Greek-American ugly-ducking-turned-princess who meets her WASP-y Prince Charming.

Overbearing relatives, obsessions with food and the surreal, and the tacky pageantry of a family wedding have long served as centerpieces for movies, from "Father of the Bride" (original and remake) to "My Best Friend's Wedding," with dozens of others in between. But the reliability of the genre doesn't excuse predictable jokes, pat fiascoes and so many stereotypes that one is tempted to alert the Greek anti-defamation league.

The recent "Monsoon Wedding" proves that a good movie can breathe fresh life into the most universal of family affairs. But "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is predictable and dull.

Toula Portokalos (played by Nia Vardalos, who wrote the autobiographical script) is the still-unmarried daughter of a big Greek family in Chicago (the film was shot in Toronto) that runs Dancing Zorba's restaurant. The shy Toula endures the humiliations of her father (Michael Constantine), a man with a Windex fetish, who tells her that at 30 she's reached her expiration date.

Out of the blue, Toula transforms herself from "Marty" to a Hellenic "Pretty Woman" courtesy of enrollment at the local college. With contact lenses and a suddenly svelte figure, the newly assimilated Toula manages to snare the attentions of Ian (John Corbett), a one-dimensional nice-guy WASP who doesn't bat an eye at the sight of Toula's family. With its swaggering men all named Nick who seem to be auditioning for "The Sopranos," and big-haired women clamoring about marriage and food, this brood forces gluttonous portions of mousakka and untold glasses of ouzo on their guests. Uber-ethnic mom Lanie Kazan is at the center of the film's many over-the-top characters and its few heartfelt moments, as her Mrs. Portokalos slyly one-ups her domineering but clueless husband.

Vardalos, who honed her comedy at Second City, and director Joel Zwick, rely far too much on sketch humor. No joke is too broad, no ethnic gag too offensive, no plot point too overdone for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which plays like the Greek-diner skit on "Saturday Night Live" extended to feature length. And that's before the climactic wedding scene, which unfolds with slapstick predictability and silliness about ugly bridesmaid dresses, tacky accoutrements such as a plastic staircase with a fountain of champagne, and women frantically plucking hairs off their chins. Real-life weddings can be grotesque affairs; one wishes that movies about weddings would improve on the real thing.

2 stars
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding"

Opens Friday. Running time: 1:35. MPAA rating: PG (sensuality and language).
Nia Vardalos.....Fortoula 'Toula' Portokalos
John Corbett.....Ian Miller
Michael Constantine.....Gus Portokalos
Lainie Kazan.....Maria Portokalos
Andrea Martin.....Aunt Voula
Joey Fatone.....Cousin Angelo
Christina Eleusiniotis.....Toula (Age 6)
Kaylee Vieira.....Schoolgirl
John Kalangis.....Greek Teacher
Marita Zouravlioff.....Toula (Age 12)
Sarah Osman.....Athena (Age 15)
Petra Wildgoose.....Car Pool Friend
Melissa Todd.....Car Pool Friend
Bess Meisler.....Yiayia
Louis Mandylor.....Nicolas 'Nick' Portokalos

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