Shotgun Wedding is more subversive than expected. A Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy is usually built around her character's unwavering attraction to traditional love — the storybook meet-cute, the decadent nuptials, the desire to have a baby, things like that. Not this one. Yes, there are decadent nuptials, but Darcy, the lawyer Lopez portrays, wants none of them. She'd rather elope. It's her fiancé (Josh Duhamel) who insisted on a destination event in the Philippines surrounded by everyone they know, which for reasons later revealed includes Darcy's chic ex (Lenny Kravitz).
After matrimony- and motherhood-happy movies like The Wedding Planner, Monster-in-Law, The Back-Up Plan, and Marry Me, Lopez scholars will know this is a radical move on her part. And although we all know how much the real Jennifer Lopez loves love, she convincingly sells Darcy's quest to buck tradition. Lopez is nothing if not a charming actress, after all. If the movie that surrounds her doesn't always match Lopez's charisma, it's no surprise.
The other question any Jennifer Lopez romance invites: How mismatched is the man cast opposite her? For every George Clooney or Matthew McConaughey, there's an Owen Wilson or a Ralph Fiennes, hopelessly inferior to Lopez's magnetism. (Sorry, Ralph.) Duhamel lands somewhere in the middle. The pair is largely devoid of chemistry, though you might not notice because Shotgun Wedding finds plenty of opportunities to split them up. Tom, an athlete described as a "groomzilla," was initially meant to be played by Armie Hammer, who was recast in the wake of sexual abuse allegations. Hammer might not have ceded as much of the movie's energy to Lopez, so if Duhamel is a bit bland, at least he understands that she is the gravitational pull of any screen she's on.
Shotgun Wedding does have laughs, mostly courtesy of Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Duhamel's easily wowed mother, Connie. Her unmatchable delivery can make humdrum dialogue hilarious, like when she introduces herself with a matter-of-fact statement about being "realtor of the year, 1998 and 2007." The reason Connie advertises that accomplishment is that pirates have invaded Tom and Darcy's wedding. She's heard that you should humanize yourself to an attacker so he's less likely to kill you, and this is one of the biographical facts she reaches for when a machine gun is pointed in her direction.
The pirates are out to steal an eight-figure fortune from the father of the bride (Cheech Martin). Once they arrive, Shotgun Wedding becomes a predictable action romp. The CGI isn't great, the jokes could use major punch-ups, and the inevitable maybe-we-shouldn't-get-married-at-all conflict feels contrived. More troublingly, the beautiful American tourists are pitted against anonymous foreigners, forcing us to hope the rich protagonists get to return home with their millions. Hollywood loves to drop comedy stars in the middle of a seemingly exotic country and derive uncomfortable humor from the cultural differences (see: Julia Roberts and George Clooney in Ticket to Paradise, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn in Snatched, Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in Blended). Shotgun Wedding offers no commentary about this class disparity, as if it's beside the point. Pirates gonna pirate.
The rote action scenes, in which Tom and Darcy mastermind ludicrous ways to combat their terrorists, are where Shotgun Wedding is especially uninspired. Director Jason Moore, a Broadway veteran who was more at home making Pitch Perfect, underplays the ridiculousness of what's going on, probably because the script — written by Mark Hammer (Two Night Stand) — does too. The movie seems to think we are invested in Darcy and Tom's all-too-obvious fate when all we want are more Jennifer Coolidge one-liners.
I meant what I said, though: Lopez almost always transcends the half-baked comedies she agrees to make. She even survived Second Act, a movie that truly does not grasp its own absurdity. Here, her spark is on full display. We could ask why she's spending her time this way when Hustlers should have bought her a slate of shrewd projects, but asking Lopez to be choosier about her rom-coms is like asking Kravitz to vary up his scarves. It's simply not necessary. She knows her wheelhouse, and she's not going to let anyone take it away from her.
Premieres: Friday, Jan. 27 on Prime Video
Who's in it: Jennifer Lopez, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Coolidge, Cheech Marin, Sônia Braga, Lenny Kravitz, D'Arcy Carden
Who's behind it: Mark Hammer (writer), Jason Moore (director)
For fans of: J. Lo rom-coms and far-fetched action comedies like The Lost City