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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Just Married (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by Shawn Levy
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Brittany Murphy, Christian Kane, David Rasche, Veronica Cartwright, David Moscow, Valeria, Monet Mazur, Taran Killam
2003 – 95 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, some crude humor, and a brief drug reference).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 1, 2003.

Replacing a vacationing family with a newlywed couple, "Just Married" holds many similarities with the "National Lampoon's Vacation" series. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong for the protagonists, threatening to ruin their good time and tear them apart. While the Griswald family (headed by Chevy Chase's Clark) retain charm and likability throughout, "Just Married" emphasizes the meanspirited nature of the characters. The result is a mediocre romantic comedy that, while certainly fast-paced under the helm of director Shawn Levy (2002's "Big Fat Liar"), has a tendency to pick at the viewer's nerves.

In a pointless prologue that makes way for an elongated flashback, Tom (Ashton Kutcher) and Sarah (Brittany Murphy) have returned from a honeymoon that has clearly not gone well. At the point of not speaking to each other, Tom drops Sarah off at her well-to-do family's mansion and returns to the grind of his radio job. Deeply upset about his quickly unraveling marriage, Tom reminisces about he and Sarah's past. First meeting on a beach when Tom's football accidentally hit Sarah in the face as she walked her dog, they instantly became an inseparable couple. When Sarah announces to her family that she is engaged to Tom, they question his low-class roots. Sarah knows her soul mate when she seems him, however, and she and Tom get married. Setting off on what is supposed to be a romantic trip to Italy, their honeymoon becomes a disastrous one from hell.

The structure of "Just Married" is uneven. Knowing from the beginning how bad everything turns out, it rips the suspense out of the proceedings and weakens the obvious finale when Tom and Sarah rekindle their love. Screenwriter Sam Harper makes the dire mistake of asking the audience to care about the characters' fate together before we have even had a chance to get to know them as individuals or as lovers.

The zany hi-jinks of the honeymoon are at least amusing, for a while. An attempted quickie in an airplane bathroom is quite funny, as is a brief stay at a grimy, roach-infested hotel. Unfortunately, the majority of the film fails to take off as it should because of director Shawn Levy's unsteady experience in adequately setting up a joke for maximum impact. Too often, he sloppily shoots what is going on and expects it to make viewers laugh with little consideration to the fact that it is often in the tight editing of comedic sequences that render them successful. By the time the final thirty minutes have rolled around, a series of frustratingly dumb misunderstandings are introduced for the sole reason of creating more conflict. These scenes strip the characters of what charisma they have had up to this point, and make a good case for why they shouldn't be together. It isn't just that the honeymoon has been a bad one; Sarah and Tom's problems primarily stem from their mutual immaturity.

Ashton Kutcher (2000's "Dude, Where's My Car?") and Brittany Murphy (2002's "8 Mile") are on different plains as actors, and this is never more glaringly true than when they are sharing a scene. Kutcher makes Tom a nice enough guy, but there is a tendency on his part to not take the material seriously. Even when he is aiming for poignancy or sincerity, Kutcher always seems to be winking at the audience, as if he doesn't believe in what he's doing, or simply doesn't care. As the high-spirited Sarah, Brittany Murphy is lovely. Not since 1995's "Clueless" has she been given the chance to strut her stuff in a straight comedy, but she is a natural comic delight. And, unlike Kutcher, when Murphy is asked to bring on the tears and go for truth within the drama, she is able to fully sell it and make the viewer sympathize. The supporting performers are mostly inconsequential, although singer Valeria joyfully steals all of her scenes as a sexed-up woman Tom meets in a sports bar.

The final impression "Just Married" makes is about on par with what is to be expected from the first major release of the new year. While fans of Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy may rejoice, the movie they happen to be stuck in lacks the momentum or care needed to make it genuinely romantic, consistently humorous, or an insightful portrait of just-marrieds.

© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman