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Movie review: Bride Wars **

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    Kate Hudson, left, and Anne Hathaway in 'Bride Wars.'

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Kate Hudson, left, and Anne Hathaway in 'Bride Wars.'

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Bride Wars is set in a bizarre parallel universe in which a marriage proposal is the lone validation of a woman s existence.

And proposals instantly turn composed, articulate women into screaming, self-absorbed Bridezillas who will tear out their best friends hair or at least arrange to have it turned blue if they dare get in the way of the perfect day.

None of director Gary Winick s comedy of manners is meant to be taken seriously, but there s no way to overlook the farce s outrageous sexism. Every female character in the movie is shallow, petty, and thoroughly obsessed with the wedding fantasy peddled by bridal magazines. The men just look on in befuddlement, dumbfounded by the opposite sex.

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Cornered like two uneasy volunteers at an open-mike improv session, Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson do their darnedest to maintain a semblance of dignity as their characters tear into one another with all the grace and tact of UFC fighters. Their combined personality and energy elevates a putrid script to respectability.

Both actors are so effective at making their characters likable that the humor suffers as a result. Since you feel for uptight lawyer Liv (Hudson), it stings when meek schoolteacher Emma (Hathaway) tricks Liv into eating so many sweets that she won t fit into her wedding dress. Likewise, when Liv swaps out Emma s video montage for embarrassing spring-break footage, the shudders prevent any laughter.

What we re left with is a near-laughless comedy that works most effectively as a tirade about the evils of wedding one-upmanship. The movie s best moments, in which Liv and Emma stare each other down for some rapid-fire smack talk, are all in the trailer.

At the outset, Liv and Emma are best pals who giddily anticipate question-poppings from their longtime boyfriends. When they arrive almost simultaneously, both start planning their weddings, which because of their shared affinities and a clerical error, end up falling at the same time and place. Since the women plan on inviting many of the same people to their respective weddings and both refuse to budge or come to the natural compromise of a double wedding, a game of chicken is at hand.

Candice Bergen is wasted as wedding planner extraordinaire Marion St. Claire, who sometimes drops in with unnecessary, explaining-the-obvious narration. A character that could serve as the voice of reason or at least an authoritative referee is nothing more than a placeholder. Bergen seems understandably bored in the role.

The grooms-to-be, played by Chris Pratt and Steve Howey, have so few lines they are little more than extras. They are nonentities kept around only for reaction shots and dumbfounded grimaces. There s rarely a sense that either woman is in love with anything other than her idea of a perfect wedding.

Liv s brother, Nate, played by Bryan Greenberg, is the male character with the most to do and say which isn t much and sticks around as fodder for a predictable third-act twist.

A movie at war with itself, Bride Wars is as romantic as the dollar dance and as funny as the quips from a hokey wedding DJ.

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