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Published: Friday, 1/10/2003

Just Married: Gags, cliches wear thin in light comedy

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy have a genuine chemistry as a couple in Just Married. Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy have a genuine chemistry as a couple in Just Married.
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Ah, innocents abroad.

Before we dig into the guts of Just Married, the first new Hollywood movie of 2003, a lighter-than-J. Lo comedy starring hot young thangs Ashton Kutcher and Britney Murphy as newlyweds destroying U.S. relations with Europe, let me reveal something I can no longer hide from my friends, family, or co-workers. It is an impossible, impossible act to live a lie, and so I willingly offer to you now:

When Dude, Where's My Car? is on cable, I watch it. I watch it all. Every time. I watch and I laugh and laugh, and the other day it took everything I had not to purchase it on DVD. Alternately, when The Godfather is on TV, I watch for roughly 30 seconds to two minutes, then flip.

No, seriously, dude, Dude is inept, unfunny, and shamelessly watchable, the cinema's solitary act of vehicular existentialism. It stars Kutcher as the cheeriest doofus since Goofus and Gallant. He's rumpled, reedy, with a big smile, a head full of nothing, and the expression of a man ascending into heaven while drunk. At first I too scoffed at this fine American product; then I tried it, and went like, dude, why am I so ashamed to admit that Dude is charming? Like the answer was obvious, dude: Dude, it's like cozy.

Anyway, with this peace of mind I went to see Just Married. Co-starring Kutcher, and made by director Shawn Levy and producer Robert Simonds, the prolific team behind Big Fat Liar, See Spot Run, Corky Romano, and Joe Dirt, it promised to be happy and relentlessly idiotic. And forgettable.

The theater was full of frat boys who laughed at every bad joke and high school girls who talked nonstop on their cell phones. The atmosphere was perfect. There's a short prelude where we see Kutcher and Murphy knocking each other down in an airport, furious, and presumably at the end of their honeymoon. She throws gum in his hair; he slams her with a darting luggage cart.

So far, so good. Murphy is a blast to watch: she has terrific comic eyes, a teetering step, and inflatable lips that her best-known role (Eminem's double-crossing girlfriend in 8 Mile) didn't showcase, and this movie smartly exploits. She always seems to be thinking about a really dirty joke. And if anything, Just Married leaves you wanting to see more of her.

Kutcher, meanwhile, plays Tom, a guy as simple as his name. Once this uncomplicated man huffs his way back to work (tellingly, radio personality is his oxymoron-ish profession) he recounts the details of their short, damaged romance: He threw a football. Hit her in the face. The camera zooms close so we feel the impact.

But apparently love grows where Sarah (Murphy) goes. They're married, she to a self-amused slob, he to a hoity-toity, straight-out-of-a-Ralph-Lauren-catalog family. All this set-up feels longer than Gangs of New York and not as funny, with bits obviously ripped from the always hysterical land of Copyright Infringement, a magical place where everything is free and There's Something About Mary plays 24 hours a day.

Just Married takes off briefly when they go on their honeymoon. They're too tired to have sex on their wedding night; Tom gets into some arguments with the French; they get a rental car slightly roomier than a Port-A-Potty; the car gets destroyed.

Kutcher and Murphy have genuine chemistry (indeed, they're a real-life couple) and the film has a benign air. But a strange thing happens: Slowly, you notice how out of touch Just Married is, how the film seems to have been made by people who have never actually been to Europe but only read about it once in Reader's Digest and catch The Sound of Music every year on television.

The movie's view of Europe is very dated, oo-la-la stuff, as if Tom and Sarah slipped through a time warp into a light Disney comedy from 1962. Gags are repeated one too many times. Tom wears a baseball cap with an American flag on it, and heads straight for a bar showing ESPN. Every Frenchman is exactly like his Loony Tunes stereotype. On and on. If the filmmakers couldn't bother updating their cliches, the least they could do is get them right: a movie has no place making fun of Ugly Americans when it uses Central American tango music as the soundtrack for a sequence set in Italy. Sadly, Just Married is only half as stupid as Dude, Where's My Car? Maybe I ask for too much.



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