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Michael Sun

Shotgun Wedding: Comedy and carnage prove uneasy bedfellows in Prime Video rom-com starring Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Coolidge

Some film titles are such terrible puns that you can imagine the room full of studio execs grimacing at the pitch.

"What if Romeo and Juliet … was about gnomes?"

"What about a royal family … but they're cats?"

"What if Santa Claus … came with a binding contract?"

Shotgun Wedding is one of these films – built on a premise so outlandish it can only have been manufactured backwards, with a script fully written and directed in service of its snappy wordplay.

In its defence, it remains firmly committed to the bit, even as it lurches – inevitably – into absurdity.

The wedding in question is the tumultuous union of Darcy (Jennifer Lopez) and Tom (Josh Duhamel). She's a wealthy heiress who just wanted to elope; he's a baseball player and a "groomzilla" who's commandeered their nuptials in neurotic fashion, spiriting everyone away to a remote Philippines island for a lavish affair.

We learn precious little about either of them beyond their constant squabbling and apparently stagnant relationship. A few tossed off lines hint at Tom's precarious position on his baseball team; that might be why he's so sullen, pouting all through their wedding rehearsal, and completely allergic to Darcy's feminine charms.

Together, they are a classic rom-com trope: the couple who would probably be better off alone, but are stuck together for the sake of fiery drama.

And that drama comes in spades.

A wedding – in life as in film – is primarily a chance for long-held family grudges to resurface with pointed barbs and loose-lipped accusations. Force 80 people who hate each other to spend a night together and you're bound to walk away with a story for the ages.

Each member of Darcy and Tom's families is, predictably, a walking, talking liability. There's Darcy's billionaire dad Robert (comedy legend Cheech Marin) and his much younger girlfriend: the new age-y Harriet (an under-utilised D'Arcy Carden), who mostly spouts inane astrological aphorisms and swans around the place, head in the clouds.

Gazing upon them with disdain is Darcy's mother (Sonia Braga), who also chafes against Tom's parents Carol (Jennifer Coolidge) and Larry (Steve Coulter): the small-town simpletons who are just happy to be there.

Into it all drops – literally – Darcy's ex (Lenny Kravitz), who gatecrashes the party from a helicopter. His name is Sean, he wastes no time announcing, and he is the type of guy whose shirt buttons are permanently undone, wielding a strange, reptilian charm that wins over everyone except Tom.

So far, so chaotic – and that's before the 'shotgun' part of the title even appears.

The following twist will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Shotgun Wedding's impeccable, astounding trailer, but it's sure to leave a few jaws agape regardless.

It's the morning of the wedding, and there's a gloom hanging over the proceedings.

(The screenplay is incredibly on the nose about this; I counted three separate instances of characters muttering variations of "Something doesn't feel right…".)

Suddenly, the day darkens. The idyll is shattered. A boat rapidly approaches the island – and from it storms a cadre of Asian pirates, all of them brandishing gargantuan weapons and wearing horror masks straight out of Mad Max.

The mood swing – complete with screams of jubilation that quickly become terrified yowls – is deftly executed by director Jason Moore, who knows a thing or two about upping the stakes. He's best known for his 2012 debut Pitch Perfect, which made an a cappella competition feel like a death match.

It's life-or-death here, too: All the wedding guests are ushered at gunpoint into a pool and held for ransom. The pirates have cottoned on to Robert's excessive affluence, and they're demanding an eight-figure bank transfer.

Darcy and Tom, meanwhile, are nowhere to be found, having snuck away that morning to hash out their grievances. Soon enough, they find themselves the very unqualified saviours of their entire extended family, armed with little more than foolhardy fearlessness – and also, somehow, a grenade.

The politics of the showdown are a little iffy, especially after the eat-the-rich panache of so many recent island sojourns: Cannes winner Triangle of Sadness, fine dining satire The Menu, and much-loved TV sensation The White Lotus, all of which skewer their ultra-wealthy, egomaniacal subjects.

But Shotgun Wedding's rom-com structure guarantees its schmaltzy ending, where our Western heroes triumph over those pesky marauders, and order is restored.

It's less a morality tale than Mamma Mia! in hell.

Like that film, it even ends with a karaoke number and the kitschy choreography to boot – never mind the carnage of the past few hours, or the dead bodies of pirates that now lay strewn around the resort.

Credit where it's due: This is certainly one of the most bizarre rom-coms in recent memory.

And there's a deranged glee to be found in a gun-toting, maniacal J.Lo, finally released from her long-running history of staid wedding flicks: Marry Me, The Back-up Plan, and Monster-in-Law just three fizzers in a filmography teeming with brides.

Shotgun Wedding also, of course, marks another stop on the runaway Coolidge train.

It is one of the greatest woes of modern cinema that such an eccentric, singular character actor was, for years, relegated to ditzy bit parts. "I had such big dreams as a younger person, but they get sort of fizzled by life," she said recently in her Golden Globes speech, accepting the win for her acclaimed turn on The White Lotus.

Here, her zany chops are on full display once again. As Carol, she is deliciously gauche, vamping around the resort and singing show tunes at the top of her lungs – much to the chagrin of every other attendee.

"Come on, Mr Pirate Man!" she croaks in her signature drawl as she's being held hostage, wisecracking even under duress. "My name is Carol Elaine Fowler, and I deserve to live."

Then, in a wide-eyed stage whisper to the rest of the guests: "I'm humanising myself!"

It's a scene-stealing show of Coolidge's prowess in a film full of them. Long live the Coolidge renaissance.

Shotgun Wedding is streaming on Prime Video.

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