Victor Levin’s “Destination Wedding,” the third pairing of slacker-era stars Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, is a romantic comedy with the romance desaturated to a brutalist black. Misanthropes Frank (Reeves) and Lindsay (Ryder) collide en route to the nuptials of a groom both loathe — it’s his estranged brother and her ex-fiancé — and they truly suffer through each of the predictable beats: a cantankerous meet-cute, a string of coincidences, and even a stirring of the loins. Unbuckling his pants to shag in a sun-dappled winery, Reeves groans understandably, “Let’s get it over with.”
“Destination Wedding” is a curio, a film made as much for the inevitable GIFs of Ryder rolling her eyes as for any penetrating insights into the mating behavior of narcissists. Frank is a hard-hearted cynic who steals hotel-room shoehorns and blames his celibacy on his mother’s multiple divorces. Lindsay’s a babbling neurotic who talks at him and past him, like a tornado trying to move a mountain. In the frenzy of one of her storms, she exhales, “Don’t you believe that there’s someone for everyone?” “Close,” replies Frank, “I believe there’s nobody for anyone.” Clearly, the film is more in love with the characters then they are with each other. The same goes for the audience, which will be less engaged by the plot than it will by watching two cherished Generation-X icons go through the motions.
In the two-and-a-half decades since Ryder and Reeves first teamed up as hapless fiancées in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” the latter has spent his career killing hundreds of goons. He plays Frank as an emotional assassin backflipping through bullets to dodge all of Lindsay’s attempts to connect with him. All that stunt choreography has made him great at physical comedy. He even wheels a suitcase funny. Trapped next to Lindsay on a tiny commuter plane, he wrestles a bag of peanuts and karate chops a seat tray, all without raising his voice above a studied monotone. Later, he tells Lindsay about how his father once attacked him with a gun, a story that for another character — and in another actor’s hands — would be a traumatic reveal. Frank simply fought back, which allows Reeves to merge his action-pic persona with his experience in romantic comedy. At his most sentimental, Frank furtively, almost impassively, looks at Lindsay. But in the very back of his eyes, you can see an unwanted thought tiptoe through his brain: This woman is interesting.
Ryder has the more punishing role as the butt of the joke, the grimacing, jilted ex with such godawful taste in men that she springs back from every insult ready for the next one. Her character doesn’t always make sense: There’s a running joke about Lindsay’s habit of blowing on houseplants, which is perhaps supposed to represent her desperation to share oxygen with anything alive but mostly just makes her look like someone who can’t tell halitosis from photosynthesis. The best part of her character is simply Lindsay’s endurance; the negativity spewing from her mouth also tests positive for honesty, bravery and a vocal acknowledgment of her limitations. She’s one romantic comedy heroine who would never let her love life hinge on a miscommunication.
“Destination Wedding” has the bright colors and jazzy soundtrack of a film which trusts that comedy is found in the clash between light and dark, between this twee wedding and these human trolls tromping through it, between our affection for Reeves and Ryder and the relish with which they make themselves repugnant. It’s as though director Levin (“5 to 7”) flipped on the light switch in the Tunnel of Love and expects the audience to laugh at the rats.
The best creative choice in the script is narrowing the world to just these two characters, who have the film’s only speaking parts. Though we hear plenty of gossip about the other wedding attendees, the movie resists the urge to punch down by making everyone else as flagrantly awful as Frank and Lindsay; after all, if, by opening her mouth, the bride revealed herself to be as big a bimbo as Frank reports, we might forgive our leads for heckling her at the back of the pews. The increasing contrivances forcing Frank and Lindsay together prepare us for some kind of a “gotcha!” twist. Perhaps the groom is torturing them as a wedding gift to himself? But the film trusts that its stars can bicker amusingly enough to anchor the proceedings without adding more chaos to the mix.
“Destination Wedding” barely holds together as a coherent film. It’s too callous for coos, too chipper to examine the dark corners of the soul. Yet it works as a valentine to old-fashioned star power — two modern legends, older if no wiser, daring the audience to somehow love them for all their faults, and on that level, somehow succeeding.