'The Groomsmen'

In the decade since he won Sundance and scored a modest commercial hit with The Brothers McMullen, writer, director, actor, and former Entertainment Tonight PA Ed Burns has churned out a series of thinly disguised retreads of his promising debut feature, to diminishing financial and artistic returns. In his latest, Burns plays a Long Island newspaperman reunited with a gaggle of family and friends on the eve of his wedding. Myriad crises and displays of post-post-adolescent bad behavior ensue, from the underachieving cousin (Jay Mohr) who pines for his clearly disinterested ex to the disheveled older brother (Donal Logue) whose own marriage has hit the skids. For good measure, there's also a long-absent childhood pal (John Leguizamo) whose admission of homosexuality is played as though it were a Crying Game–style shocker. At the center of it all rests Burns, that unwavering avatar of red-blooded Irish Catholic masculinity, dispensing sage lessons in dude-ology while wondering if he himself is really ready for "I do." Fatally conventional in nearly every respect, the movie would be easy to dismiss were it not for Burns's frustrating knack for inserting unexpectedly truthful moments amid all the dross. Midway through The Groomsmen, a happily married-with-children barkeep (Matthew Lillard) delivers a wise and lyrical monologue about the joys of fatherhood; and there are a number of affecting, well-played scenes mixed in with many others that make you wonder if there was anyone on set to give the actors guidance. So Burns remains an enigma: After six features, it's still impossible to tell if he's a filmmaker with something to say or merely one of the longest-running novelty acts in modern movies.

 
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