Here’s what you do know: The opening hour of “Wedding Crashers” roars with cascading verbal barbs between two divorce lawyers (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn) who don’t just bed every eligible girl of every possible ethnicity at every possible wedding in the D.C. area, but poke witty (and surprisingly accurate) holes in the bizarre cultural institution known as marriage.

Film Reviews
Turns out your face can get stuck in that funny expression. (Courtesy of New Line)

The x-factor: The sleazy, gin-fueled romp is almost crippled by the good-girl-meets-reformed-bad-boy subplot that has just as many “cute” wedding scenes and heartfelt speeches as a bad season of “7th Heaven.” The last 30 minutes drag on like a sloppy hymn to pre-professional love and almost kill the boozy fun of the opening act. Almost.

Early on, Wilson and Vaughn, hamming it up like the pledge master and social chair, respectively, make every line a catch phrase and suddenly make ballroom dancing and scallops the coolest fucking things on earth.

Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”), playing Claire, the warm, lively daughter of Treasury Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken), flashes one of her smiles that could disarm a terrorist cell (along with my bitter, angsty heart) and Wilson is in love.

While Wilson is off being mopey, the viewer gets the real treats. Walken shows a quiet, sharp bite for social comedy, fitfully trying to reconnect with his dark, troubled homosexual artist son, heartily encouraging him to scream, “Death, you are my bitch lover!” at a family wedding.

Isla Fisher (“Scooby Doo”), marginalized for most of the film as Claire’s slutty, insane younger sister, gets incredible mileage out of her one-note role, going beyond flickering her eyes at her object of desire (Vaughn) to gleefully stealing scenes from him. And for those of you who haven’t seen “Swingers,” stealing scenes from Mr. Vaughn is as difficult as it gets.

In fact, “Wedding Crashers,” at its best moments (again, the opening 45 minutes or so), plays like a polished ensemble comedy. Every role, from the dickhead prep (Bradley Cooper, TV’s “Alias”) to the still-randy mother (Jane Seymour, TV’s “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”), is carried to a warm respectability.

Even when the script runs out of gas, the actors still act like they’re in the breezy first half, smiling through the quasi-romantic slop and playing the concluding scenes with a loose physicality.

The disappointing final third of the film can’t be overstated. Wilson goes from doe-eyed to stalker in 20 minutes and McAdams is suddenly enamored with her asshole fiance in inexplicable character shifts that seem woefully out of place.

The new unrated version adds a few more torsos to the montage of international nudity and the DVD’s commentary tracks are expectedly funny, with plenty of in-jokes made public by Wilson and Vaughn.

And it’s this giddy duo, with their effortless waves of comedy, that ultimately provides the real pleasure of “Wedding Crashers.” To be caught in those perfect storms is a delight.

 

Film: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Special Features: 4 out of 5 stars

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