The union of Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence marginally compensate for a strained premise.
The union of onetime teen stars Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence and some flushes of clever dialogue marginally compensate for a strained premise in “My Fake Fiance,” the kind of slim romantic comedy better suited to basic cable than many among the hordes of similarly themed theatrical offerings unleashed each year. Slight and predictable, the movie nevertheless should find a sweet spot with ABC Family’s young-female audience, already familiar with producer-star Hart thanks to “Holiday in Handcuffs.”
Now in their early 30s, Hart and Lawrence starred in the sitcoms “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Brotherly Love,” respectively, in the mid-1990s, and they’re not terribly far from that territory working from Howard March’s meet-cute script. Cynical, wedding-hating Jennifer (Hart) — who announces, “There’s no such thing as soul mates” — winds up seated next to deep-in-debt gambler Vince (Lawrence) at a friend’s wedding. Rapid-fire banter and hostility ensue.
Later, however, Jennifer has all her belongings stolen (don’t ask), and desperately conjures a scheme to replace them: announce her ersatz engagement, registering for all kinds of doodads. This sounds great to Vince, who owes $15,000 to a bookie named Monkey (Steve Schirripa of “The Sopranos,” in a fairly inspired bit of casting) and hopes to pay him with the cash gifts they receive.
Complications, of course, quickly arise, beginning with the bit of etiquette that dictates they’ll have to go through with the wedding to keep the ill-gotten loot. Moreover, there’s the little matter of breaking news of this sudden betrothal to their respective families; when pressed for information from his prospective in-laws about his upbringing, Vince describes the ’70s sitcom “The Facts of Life.”
Along the way, both are forced to deal with family issues, from his absentee dad to her resentment toward her standoffish parents for doting on her younger (and already married) sister, Bonnie (Diane Neal). Less convincing, alas, is the budding romance, or the fact that neither Vince nor Jennifer realizes until the final 15 minutes that misleading everyone they know in order to fleece them may be a bad idea.
Still, director Gil Junger keeps the action light and breezy, with even Monkey and his burly henchmen exhibiting a soft underbelly when it comes to true love. And while the ending hardly comes as a surprise, it’s satisfying enough for those willing to harbor a less-jaundiced view of love than Jennifer.