'27' romantic comedy clichés

In Anne Fletcher's '27 Dresses,' Katherine Heigl is always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Courtesy of Barry Wetcher/20th Century Fox
Jane (Katherine Heigl) tries on one of her '27 Dresses.' The film, which also stars Edward Burns and James Marsden, is built out of an assortment of familiar romantic comedy tropes.

The romantic comedy "27 Dresses" will work best for people who have never seen a romantic comedy. If you have, you might find it amusing to tally up the steals – I mean, homages.

What's unusual about "27 Dresses" is that it doesn't only filch from good movies, it also poaches the bad stuff. This is a movie that was practically inspired by "The Runaway Bride."

Still, it's January, folks, and any studio picture released this early in the year is almost, by definition, a dud. And so I'm pleased to report that "27 Dresses," while it isn't good, exactly, is no stinker. By January standards, it might even be said to be OK.

The main reason the movie is tolerable to sit through is Katherine Heigl, who plays Jane Nichols, always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Jane's mother died when she was young, and ever since then she's been the perfect helper to everyone from her younger sister Tess (Malin Akerman) to her large supply of marriageable female friends – 27 to be exact.

She's also the perfect assistant to her wealthy boss, George (Edward Burns), who runs an outdoor equipment company. In a shocking plot development, we discover that Jane is hopelessly in love with George, who, of course, is clueless about her infatuation.

Enter Kevin (James Marsden), a roguish newspaper columnist who, in the real world, would be writing nasty gossip but here is consigned to his paper's "Weddings" section. He has a soulful flair for writing up wedding announcements even though he claims to be cynical about marriage. In another shocking narrative twist, it turns out that he's really a cream puff when it comes to romance.

The object of his ardor is, of course, Jane, who at first can't stand him. He's almost creepily persistent, though. They end up bonding in a roadhouse bar after their car breaks down in a storm and proceed to wail Elton John's "Benny and the Jets" while the improbably ruly patrons gleefully chime in.

Jane and Kevin may not have "met cute" but they bond cute.

Since all romantic comedies have to have "heart" – i.e., heartbreak – Tess arrives on the scene to scoop up Jane's one true love, George.

Soon they are engaged, even though Tess, a layabout with a taste for Eurotrashy men, has lied to him about her past. Once again, George, supposedly a man of the world, is clueless about what women want. And Jane, ever the helpmate, becomes her sister's bridesmaid.

This is the kind of movie where the audience is meant to recognize the heroine's one true love even before she does. It's obvious that Jane and Kevin were meant for each other, which is why it takes almost the entire movie for them – or, more exactly, her – to realize it. She even gets to act out that hoariest of scenes – the one where the girl kisses the guy she's supposed to be in love with (George) and realizes the sparks just aren't there.

Heigl, a regular on "Grey's Anatomy," made her big movie splash in "Knocked Up," and her sunny insipidity helped to leaven some of that film's raunchiness. She was charming in that film and she's delightful in "27 Dresses," too, although director Anne Fletcher overdoes the smiling-through-tears close-ups.

Heigl doesn't need the camera to do her work for her. She's a bit like Amy Adams – Hollywood's other It girl. They both radiate a sweetness that can't be faked (or at least they're doing a great job faking it).

As her wisecracking co-worker, Judy Greer has the best lines and she knows how to deliver them. Marsden, who was the cartoonishly handsome prince opposite Adams in "Enchanted," does a variation on that role here. Akerman is a one-note temptress but then again, her role is barely a grace note.

Like I said, it's January. You want good? Wait until the spring. Grade: C+

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