Jennifer Lopez remains the romcom queen

Jennifer Lopez, Josh Duhamel in Shotgun Wedding
Photo: Lionsgate

Many weddings are chaotic, but none more so than in romcoms. The milieu is a playground for misadventure, where highly constructed, hilarity-laden shenanigans ensue easily, leading to heart-rending poignancy once the happy couple inevitably makes it to the altar. While director Jason Moore’s Shotgun Wedding doesn’t mess too much with that formula, its sentiment offers a refreshing spin on the therapeutic benefits of the anxiety-inducing matrimonial process, along with a body count and a satisfying dose of escapism.

Darcy (Jennifer Lopez) and Tom (Josh Duhamel) are on different pages when it comes to their impending nuptials. Their destination wedding in the Philippines is going pear-shaped fast. Although she would have preferred a private, intimate affair, he took the reins on party planning, renting out an exotic island resort for friends and family. The invitees include her screw-up younger sister Jamie (Callie Hernandez), her bitterly divorced mom Renata (Sonia Braga), her billionaire businessman dad Robert (Cheech Marin), and his much younger hippie girlfriend, Harriet (D’Arcy Carden). Also along for the ride are Tom’s gauche parents Larry (Steve Coulter) and Carol (Jennifer Coolidge) and his goofball bestie, Ricky (Desmin Borges). Even though they’re supposed to be celebrating the occasion, the guests’ petty squabbles heap further stress on the happy couple, who feel compelled to mediate.

The engaged lovebirds experience trouble in paradise dealing with last-minute problems—everything from assembling Pinterest-worthy table décor to accommodating a surprise guest: Darcy’s impossibly wealthy and handsome ex-fiancé, Sean (Lenny Kravitz). Worst of all, Darcy wakes up with a case of cold feet on the morning of their special day. As the couple argues and avoids each other on one side of the island, mercenaries descend on the other, taking the guests hostage as they look for the missing-in-action bride and groom. Darcy and Tom are then forced to reunite to rescue their guests while rekindling their love for each other.

Although the filmmakers deliver a lighthearted caper, they package the poignancy differently than other romcoms, which tend to bypass psychological healing in favor of a cloying, cutesy conclusion. The two leads have well-rounded arcs, but Mark Hammer’s screenplay does them a disservice by blatantly telling us their motivations and character traits through dialogue, rather than revealing them through action. Although the narrative has more valleys than peaks thanks to a few contrived reveals, meaningful care is given to Darcy and Tom’s internal and external stakes. The picture retains its buoyant sense of humor as the pair are allotted ample time to work through their grievances with each other and their families while struggling to survive.

Moore and his crew astutely marry below-the-line craftsmanship with delightful narrative nuances whenever possible. We can chart Darcy’s evolution from wilting peacekeeper to no-holds-barred warrior through her changing wardrobe. And as the tulle layers on her voluminous wedding gown shed and shred, so does her proclivity to honor others’ needs before her own. She’s reborn, transformed after a hotel kitchen face-off with baddies in an empowering sequence that spotlights a shrewd collaborative effort between Moore, cinematographer Peter Deming, and costume designer Mitchell Travers.

Shotgun Wedding – Official Trailer | Prime Video

Lopez, who is completely at ease in this beloved genre, finds new facets to explore with her heroine. Instead of being capable from the jump (as her characters are in The Wedding Planner, Maid in Manhattan, and most recently Marry Me), her protagonist’s journey is centered on discovering her evolving capabilities. Her timing is as precise as ever, humorously riffing after maiming or killing pirates. She also stretches her comedic muscle, playing up the physical comedy intrinsic to the role and blending clever slapstick into the fight choreography. Lopez and Duhamel have good chemistry, demonstrating decent repartee when their characters banter or bicker. Yet it’s Kravitz who fittingly threatens to steal the film from its leading man due to his natural charisma and disarming on-screen sway.

With its fairly compelling core, Shotgun Wedding is a better-than-average action-romcom, if a few runs below its subgenre cousin, Knight And Day. Although the madcap antics come up short in some areas, and it’s unable to strike a good balance between its main and supporting players, you’ll find it easy to say “I do” to this one.

(Shotgun Wedding premieres on Prime Video January 27)

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