Bridal Sour

The prototypical Steve Martin character has evolved into a decent, beleaguered goof who can but roll his eyes, dip into that little trademark mambo step, and try to persevere in the face of domestic distress. He's true-hearted but baffled -- Buster Keaton with facial expressions.

This is the striving Dad we met in Parenthood, the unlucky traveler in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the wacky weatherman of L.A. Story. It is also George Banks, the agitated middle-class patriarch in Charles Shyer's uneven remake of Father of the Bride. While the fun lasts, the movie's full of vintage Steve Martin shtick -- squeezing gamely into an old tuxedo, falling into a swimming pool in pursuit of another man's checkbook, suffering wide-eyed paralysis amid a stretch of upsetting dinner conversation.

Vincente Minnelli's fizzy 1950 original featured grizzled Spencer Tracy and a fresh bloom named Elizabeth Taylor in the key comic roles, and it bears little resemblance to the current effort --

except for the inescapable fact that Daddy's Little Girl (Kimberly Williams, this time around) is about to get married, and he's damned unhappy about it.

The comedy emanates from George's stubborn, touching refusal to let go, from his comic self-pity ("Old Dad was history," he tells us), and from the idea that his daughter's wedding amounts to a conspiracy -- financial and emotional -- against poor George Banks. From the swans in the bathtub to the first L.A. snowstorm in 36 years to the arrival of the cops, George has his hands full.

Diane Keaton, still horse-faced and insipid, shows up as his devoted wife, and Peter Michael Goetz and Kate McGregor Stuart have nice turns as the rich prospective in-laws.

Along with Martin, who's hilarious here, diminutive Martin Short lights things up as a frenzied "wedding consultant" (welcome to L.A.) who speaks in an indeterminate European accent and flings himself after party details just as fervently as after George's cash. "Let me help you," he trills amid one wedding-day crisis. "Give me your wallet."

In the end, unfortunately, Shyer, Martin, and company ask us to give them our sentiment: The last fourth of the movie declines into mere recitation of wedding ritual, with all the comedy squeezed out of it. Director Shyer knows at least part of his audience cries at weddings. It was his duty, however, to keep 'em laughing.

FATHER OF THE BRIDE
Directed by Charles Shyer; screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer; with Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, and Martin Short.

Rated PG.
Opens Friday.

 
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