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White Wedding -- Film Review

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For her feature debut, South African director Jann Turner has made an ambitious social comedy titled "White Wedding." That her country chose the film as its official entry for the foreign-language Oscar earlier this year speaks to its success with domestic audiences; it performed surprisingly well at the box office. However, international audiences will be confronted by a rather predictable and highly implausible road movie that strains to achieve too many agendas.

The film has enough winning attributes to become one of those "worth a look" picks by local critics when it opens more widely in North America following its debuts Friday in Los Angeles and New York. So the film has potential for modest box-office returns in specialty venues.

The story is simple: Just days before his wedding, a happy groom named Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi) is 1,800 kilometers away from his bride, Ayanda (Zandile Msutwana), and the site of their wedding in Cape Town. Why he is so far away never is explained. Neither is the convoluted route to his nuptials: take a long-distance bus to Durban to connect with best man Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo), who has a car but absolutely no sense of responsibility.

Do you need to be told that the bus will be missed, Tumi will fail to turn up, the car will break down and one delay after another will cause the men to quarrel? Or that the happy couple, on opposite ends of mobile phones, will begin to question each other's commitment to the marriage? You can also throw in an ex-boyfriend (Mbulelo Grootboom), who suddenly appears in Cape Town to knock the bride off-kilter.

This movie is not shy about delivering the obvious, though a gift goat from Granny, which the men acquire along the way, might not be completely predictable. But Turner, who wrote the comedy with her two male leads, means for this chaotic road trip to have a purpose other than laughs at the expense of increasingly frantic travelers.

She means to paint a portrait of post-apartheid South Africa by sending two black men through bush country where unrepentant Afrikaners still brood over their beers and a sign on a taproom toilet might proclaim "White Men Only." Upping the ante, she contrives for a white female hitchhiker to join the men on their journey.

To do the latter, she asks a viewer to accept that an English woman doctor (Jodie Whittaker) would flee her best friend in a quarrel over a man and then hitchhike through an unfamiliar wilderness in a foreign country. Worse, she hops into the back seat of Tumi's car without so much as introducing herself or asking for a lift. Elvis rightly complains this intruder might be a drug dealer or worse, but Tumi just shrugs.

So now two black men and a white woman get all kinds of startled looks and worried glances. What happens when they enter a bar full of racist Boers is so far-fetched you can only accept it on faith. It does, however, provide Marcel van Heerden with a memorable cameo as a curmudgeonly old Boer.

This mix of near slapstick comedy and social commentary doesn't always gel. Not helping matters is the film's near total reliance on caricatures from the fey wedding planner and punctilious bridal-shop assistant to the country rustics and township matriarchs that snatch the wedding out of the beleaguered bride's hands.

So "Wedding" is a mixed bag, to say the least. It is interesting, for instance, to see how black characters will switch languages to exclude others from a conversations. But you worry that on occasion the characters fooled the subtitlists as well. So much of the behavior defies easy understanding yet the translated dialogue fails to satisfy those concerns.

Opens: Friday, Sept. 3 (Los Angeles and New York) (Little Film Co. and Dada Films)
Production: Stepping Stone Pictures. CAST: Kenneth Nkosi, Rapulana Seiphemo, Zandile Msutwana, Jodie Whittaker, Mbulelo Grootboom, Marcel van Heerden
Director: Jann Turner
Screenwriters/producers: Kenneth Nkosi, Rapulana Seiphemo, Jann Turner
Executive producer: Ken Follett
Director of photography: Willie Nel
Production designer: Martha Sibayone
Music: Joel Assaizky
Costume designer: Vivienne Mahlokho
Editor: Tanja Hagen
No rating, 98 minutes