NEW YORK — Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney aren't exactly Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. But they come closer to a movie-star duo than you'll find in any other picture opening Friday, which raises the question: Whatever happened to old-fashioned screen chemistry?
Very little chemistry exists in "The Wedding Date," in which Messing plays Kat, the unhappy American half-sister of a blushing English bride, and Mulroney plays Nick, a male "escort" she hires so everyone will think she has a boyfriend.
It seems Kat's former fiancé will be best man at the ceremony, and she's desperate to give the impression that a desirable man finds her irresistible. Everything goes awry when she falls for the escort, who turns out to be a sweeter guy with a better education than anyone else in sight.
That's a silly and predictable plot, but some fine romantic comedies have silly, predictable plots. What makes them so fine? Often it's screen chemistry.
Messing has made several movies, but unless you enjoyed pictures like the wretched "Along Came Polly" and the unfunny "Celebrity," you probably know her from "Will & Grace" and her other television work. She's one of those mildly gifted performers whose personalities come forward appealingly on TV but don't have enough charisma for the wide screen.
Mulroney has many films, including good ones like "Undertow" and "About Schmidt," to his credit. Straight-up romantic comedy doesn't seem to be his forte, though, and opposite Messing he seems stiffer and more smart-alecky than suave and self-assured.
"The Wedding Date" suffers from other problems, too, most of them traceable to Clare Kilner's halting, uneven directing style. Comedies like this should feel brisk and bracing, and that's a mood Kilner has yet to master. She has a commendable commitment to stories about women, but here, as in "How To Deal" and "Janice Beard: 45 Words Per Minute," her storytelling comes up short.
In sum, this is a wedding date that would have benefited from a different designer, a more knowing caterer, and - most of all - a whole new guest list.
• Rated PG-13; contains vulgar dialogue and strongly implied sex.