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Tripping to the altar 

& & by Ed Symkus & & & &

In her first stab at physical comedy in a leading role, Jennifer Lopez does everything right. When called for, she gets the exaggerated facial expressions down pat. If need be, she can go back and forth between a quick prance and a slow walk, accompanied by plucked violin strings on each step that's reminiscent of a Warner Bros. cartoon. And as a love interest for Matthew McConaughey, well, she makes it easily understood why someone would fall for her character.

Lopez plays Mary Fiore (although why the filmmakers made her Italian instead of Latino is anybody's guess), a hard-working, detail-oriented wedding planner who knows and is very good at every aspect of the business. She'll choose the flowers and the statuary, she'll know exactly which music not to use during the ceremony (and there's some great Olivia Newton-John bashing in this film), she'll calm down a bride who's developing last-second cold feet, she'll get tall people out of the way of video cameras.

But with all this lovey-dovey stuff filling the air around her every day, she never seems to stop and realize that not only is she alone, she's also lonely. Her biggest kick is her regular stint as a member of San Francisco's Bay Area Scrabble Club. But things start to turn around one day when the film requires viewers to believe that a person would risk her life for a Gucci shoe. Which is how Mary meets McConaughey's Steve Edison, a pediatric doctor who's in the right place at her wrong time.

Suddenly, through the magic of a late-night, outdoor screening of the old Janet Leigh film Two Tickets to Broadway, that both of them attend and fall under the spell of, love does attempt to bloom. But then, seeing as the film would end right there if nothing else happened, a plot gets in the way. Not of the film, but of whatever their relationship was heading toward.

Steve, you see, is engaged to well-to-do knockout Fran Donolly (knockout Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, wife of tennis player Pete). And -- get ready for complications -- Fran is Mary's most recent prospective customer.

Wait, it gets even more involved. If Mary lands this particular big-money contract, she'll be made a partner in the wedding planner firm.

So let the game begin. Fran remains blissfully unaware that there's any tension between her husband-to-be and her wedding planner-to-be, even as Mary is forced to tango with Steve at a dance lesson Fran must bow out of, under, by the way, the brief, over-the-top appearance of scene-stealer Fred Willard as the flamboyant instructor.

And since complication is what this film wants to be about, plenty of it is added via Mary's well-meaning, old-fashioned father (Alex Rocco, bearing an overdone Italian accent that keeps fading in and out), who decides to play matchmaker. Completely unaware of anything going on with -- much less the existence of -- Steve, Dad hopes to hook his daughter up with Massimo (Justin Chambers, who will star later this year, sans silly accent, in D'Artagnan), a kindly but very forward young man, literally just off the boat, who falls, just as suddenly, head over heels for Mary. This section of the plot feels out of place until things start coming together in the last reel.

But this is also where the mostly breezy mood of the film heads into slightly more serious territory. Not just with the touch and go, up and down, back and forth tussles between Mary and Steve as they try to figure out just what to do about everyone's situation, but also about Mary's widower father revealing a little background about himself and his own marriage that she wasn't aware of.

But that's only for a short while. The comic aspects remain well in front of everything else. And the actors seem to know exactly how to do what the director wants to keep it that way. While Lopez is practically faultless in her portrayal, McConaughey, though smooth and charming, does stumble in his leading man role a couple of times. But with so many good performances around him, such as Wilson-Sampras' nice but manipulative bride-to-be and Judy Greer's (Three Kings) hilarious portrayal of Mary's excitable, expressive-eyed assistant, it's easy to forget his few shortcomings.

Some good, unexpected, believable -- well, mostly believable -- plot curves pile up near the end, attempting to sort out just who is meant and not meant for whom, and the dialogue remains fresh all the way through. The film is a general crowd pleaser -- sweet and charming, funny and well done.

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