The Wedding Date

By now you are familiar with the sitcom device where a person convinces someone to pretend to be his or her significant other for the purpose of fooling relatives and/or making ex-S.O.’s jealous. When this premise is transferred to the movies, it is inevitably accompanied by one of the parties actually falling in love with the person they were pretending to be in love with, a twist which the audience always receives with delight and surprise.

What I like about “The Wedding Date” — and this is literally the only thing I like about it — is that it never pretends that it’s going to do anything other than what we expect it to do. When the hopelessly single Kat Ellis (Debra Messing) must attend her sister’s wedding in London and see her ex-fiance act as the groom’s best man, her first thought is to hire a male escort to pose as her new beau. In fact, the film opens with the deal having already been struck. We are spared any potential scenes of Kat stressing out, whining to girlfriends, and finally deciding to hire an escort. The movie cuts right to the chase. Its first act is what most films would have as their second act.

Unfortunately, this means that its second act — complications, shenanigans and wackiness — does all the things that another film’s third and final act would do. So “The Wedding Date” must tack on its own third and final act, in which the tone turns shockingly melodramatic, as if we care enough about these characters to be concerned when their lives turn into soap operas.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Kat Ellis has hired Nick Mercer (Dermot Mulroney) to pretend to be her boyfriend, at a cost of $6,000 plus expenses, which you will agree is a lot of money just to make someone jealous. The someone in question is Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield), who dumped her two years ago after a relationship of several years and whose best friend is now marrying Kat’s self-centered sister Amy (Amy Adams).

The wedding is taking place in England, although any scenes explaining why Kat’s American family (except for a British stepfather) live over there have been excised. I understand the film was edited after initially receiving an R rating; perhaps some of the clarity went with it. Maybe the filthiest scene happened to be the one that explained the Americans-in-London thing. Maybe the scene was of the family sitting around discussing their history, except that they were sitting around naked, and so the scene had to go. Who knows?

Directed with muddled confusion by Clare Kilner (who also directed the equally nonsensical Mandy Moore vehicle “How to Deal”), the movie goes through its stock characters (alcoholic mother, sexpot girlfriend) and obligatory plot points (Kat and Nick sleep together, then bicker about it; revelations are made about some characters’ pasts) without enthusiasm or charm.

Debra Messing is funny on “Will & Grace,” but that’s because Grace has actual traits, the way real people do. Kat is nondescript and ordinary, a flat, mildly neurotic woman who seems like … well, like Grace, only not interesting.

The screenwriter is named Dana Fox, and this is her first film credit. I wonder if, as a fresh new writer, she knows that her work sucks, or if she will have to learn the hard way, i.e., through people like me telling her. Is it possible to think, “Hey, what if a woman hired an escort to pose as her boyfriend and then they ACTUALLY FELL IN LOVE?!?!” and not immediately discard the idea as being overused and unimaginative? Is it possible to come up with that and decide it’s worth fleshing out?

For that matter, is it even possible to “come up with” that idea? That’s like “coming up with” the idea of two cops who dislike each other but have to work together, and eventually they become friends. You can’t “come up with” a story that’s been around for 4,000 years. All you can do is steal it.

Sometimes my friend Ken and I talk about how we should write a really bad, generic, lame comedy, just because we know we’d be able to sell it to Hollywood for half a million dollars. We would make it stupid on purpose and follow every cliché in the book — because, having seen hundreds of Hollywood comedies in the past several years, we know that’s what gets bought and filmed.

So maybe that’s what Dana Fox did. Maybe she wrote an imbecilic, unfunny romantic comedy on purpose, figuring if she can just get her foot in the door, she’ll be able to get someone to look at her REAL screenplay, the one she’s actually proud of. Dana Fox, if you’re reading this, please let me know if that was your plan. Also please let me know if you are a man or a woman, because “Dana” could go either way.

D (1 hr., 29 min.; PG-13, some profanity, some sexuality, some sexual dialogue, brief partial nudity.)