According to Judge Bill Gibron, there is nothing funny about marriage—not the ceremony, not the reception, and not this average nuptial comedy from New Zealand.
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In a small town in their native New Zealand, they are notorious—Albert, the shy, nerdy Momma's boy; Sefa, the disheveled drunk; Michael, the oversexed ladies man, and Stanley, obsessed with phone chat rooms and hip-hop. But their fame does not derive from their perverse proclivities. No, these overgrown boys are infamous for their overblown partying. They have ruined several local weddings, and are now officially banned from Sione's nuptials. Only problem is—Sione is Michael's brother, and a close friend of the other three. Trying desperately to get an invite, the guys come up with a plan to appease the local priest. If they can get dates for the ceremony, they promise to be good. But the Reverend tweaks the task a little. These must be real girlfriends, not just some babes picked up in a bar. With one month to go, it should be easy. But these daft dudes have never had serious relationships—not even Sefa, who is living with the long-suffering Leilani. Thus, it looks like they may miss this Samoan Wedding after all.
It's always interesting to see what other cultures find hilarious. Recently, the Germans have discovered the joys of mocking their Nazi past (with the controversial hit Mein Führer: The Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler), while in France, sexual shenanigans and situations seem good for a giggle or two. For the members of the Samoan people, living along the Pacific Rim (and, in the case of this film, a newly metropolitan New Zealand), hip-hop and rap are real rib-ticklers. Apparently, lots of Caucasian Kiwis enjoy mimicking the style and slang of African-American music stars, and the Samoans think this is a stitch. They must, considering that a good 60 percent of the humor in the otherwise ordinary Samoan Wedding comes from various ethnic races making like Snoop Dogg and M. C. Hammer (who gets name-checked TWICE!?!?!). What comprises the other 40 percent? Why, mindless adolescent jock joking, the seemingly uproarious idea of four perfectly capable men living at home, drinking 'til dawn, and puking in the begonias before bugging Mom for a couple of scrambled eggs. This arrested development dynamic, mixed with lots of mid-'90s street jargon, are the main reasons why this movie doesn't gel. Instead of being an idiosyncratic look at what the Polynesians find witty, the movie borrows all its burlesque from concepts that were corny 30 minutes after initially arriving on the pop-culture scene.
Part of the problem here is predictability. When we see the big dorky Momma's boy constantly fending off invitations from a good natured co-worker, we just know the two dweebs are destined to be together. Similarly, the smarmy ladies man who has a thing for "sexually liberated white women" makes a momentary play for a slutty gal of his own race. Guess whose bed he ends up in at the finale? Between the idea of biology as balm for anything awful that occurs in a relationship (believe it or not, the promise of a baby gets one borderline alcoholic to give up drink and drugs cold turkey) and a fantasy phone sex gal who ends up being dour, dumpy, and decent, Samoan Wedding is overloaded with clichés and formula. When the priest lays down the law, using videotape from recent ceremonies to show the boys how bad they've been, we find the footage featured weekly on America's Funniest Home Videos to be more concerning—and comic. Indeed, the worst thing these guys do is get liquored up and completely stupid when nuptials roll around. So the insertion of a female into their advanced elbow tipping doesn't seem like a sane solution. In fact, one fears for the lives of the ladies they end up with.
To his credit, director Chris Graham keeps things moving at a decent pace. We never get bored with the action going on before us, though we do instantly recognize them from other Van Wilder/Wedding Crashers/Grandma's Boys-type movies. Though it's clear that the only New Zealander with a penchant for gross-out gags is named Peter Jackson, this film still feels it's offering a cutting-edge comedy. Too bad the blade is so incredibly blunt. Indeed, had Graham dropped the gimmicky script and simply stuck with these four characters, we'd have something quite unusual and inventive on our hands. The Samoan people and their tribal ways are endlessly fascinating (their formal garb? A combination of tuxedo and matching sarong). If he had simply decided to follow the men through the world of dating and maturity, facing both the responsibilities of the real world and the traditions of their people, the results could be eye-openingly pleasant. But instead, Samoan Wedding goes for the cheap laugh, mining merriment in weird wigger worthlessness.
Presented by Magnolia Pictures in a decent DVD package, there will be those who complain about the horrid cropping job the company did on the image. The film's original technical specifications have the theatrical aspect ratio at 2.35:1. But for some reason, this release is 1.78:1. This means we lose information at the edges of both sides (this is especially true during a sequence where Albert and an office mate share a casual conversation). While anamorphic and loaded with sharp colors and clean contrasts, this bad transfer takes away from Graham's attempts at cinematic artistry. As for the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix, it's front-loaded with bass heavy rap and hip-hop tracks, meaning that your subwoofer will definitely get a workout. In addition, the dialogue is easily discernible and the overall ambience effective and engaging. As for added content, we are treated to a full-length audio commentary by Oscar Nightley (producer/writer/actor; he plays Albert), producer/writer James Griffin, and actor David Fane, and an interesting behind-the-scenes featurette. As expected, they are both very genial, general affairs. The scene-specific discussion does offer a few off-the-cuff moments, and the 20-minute "making-of" manages to touch on all aspects of the production. While not Criterion quality, these extras really add to one's appreciation of this effort.
Had director Graham simply ditched the dick jokes (and there are a lot of them here) and followed the frequently fractured relationship between Sefa and Leilani, Samoan Wedding would be a much better movie. As it stands, it has too much Western wantonness to be wholly successful. You will probably like this film. You won't laugh, however.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
• Full-length Audio Commentary with producer/writer/actor Oscar Nightley, producer/writer James Griffin, and actor David Fane
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