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'The Big Wedding' (R)

Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton in 'The Big Wedding'.
Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton in 'The Big Wedding'.

The Big Wedding is a would-be screwball comedy that forgets to throw in the screws. Instead, we get gross-out jokes (an unexpected blast of vomit), racist stereotypes (like the Latina beauty who can’t keep her clothes on and wants to have sex with every man she sees), homophobic gags (when a character announces she’s a lesbian, everyone shrieks in horror) and idiotic, contrived characters (a 29-year-old obstetrician who is still a virgin, even though every nurse in the hospital drools after him; or an attorney who tries to smoke in a hospital and is so afraid of motherhood that she faints when she sees a baby).

Inspired by the French comedy Mon frère se marie, writer-director Justin Chatham follows the original film’s template about a wealthy family preparing for the marriage of their adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes). In order to not upset Alejandro’s religious birth mother, who is traveling from Colombia to attend the ceremony, Don and Ellie (Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton), the couple who raised Alejandro before going through a bitter divorce, must pretend to still love each other. This doesn’t sit well with Don’s current girlfriend Bebe (Susan Sarandon), who happens to be catering the wedding.

The Big Wedding sets up a bunch of scenarios that are supposed to culminate in an all-out farce. But with the exception of a couple of scenes in which De Niro and Keaton drop some f-bombs on each other during an argument, nothing in this bland comedy works. As Alejandro’s baby-phobic sister, Katherine Heigl continues to prove she has the worst agent in the world. The reliable Topher Grace, who is usually good for a laugh or two, is on autopilot, as if even he didn’t believe in his character’s self-imposed chastity. Robin Williams pops up in what is essentially a cameo, but all he contributes is to overpronounce Alejandro’s name, like Jane Curtin used to pronounce “Nicaragua” on Saturday Night Live.

There is also a mildly racist streak running through the film, beginning with the casting of the British-born Barnes, who played Prince Caspian in two of the Narnia movies, as a dark-skinned Colombian. The actor looks like he’s spent too much time on a tanning bed or is sporting spray-on makeup (instead of blackface, call it Latinoface). There is much talk about “beige bilingual babies” and in one scene, Keaton takes a walk through the woods with Alejandro’s mother and has a heart-to-heart talk with her, even though the woman doesn’t speak any English. The scene comes off as painfully patronizing. The Big Wedding belongs to that realm of comedy about fabulously wealthy white people (think My Darling Companion or Something’s Gotta Give) who seem to have no connection to the real world and have no interest in it either. People who live in Cape Cod might enjoy the film and relate to the characters’ dilemmas. Most viewers, though, will feel like they’re staring at aliens.

Cast: Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried, Ben Barnes, Ana Ayora, Patricia Rae, Robin Williams.

Writer-director: Justin Chatham. Based on the film ‘Mon frère se marie.’

Producers: Anthony Katagas, Clay Pecorin, Richard Salvatore.

A Lionsgate release. Running time: 90 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.