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Movie Review: “The Five-Year Engagement”

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“The Five-Year Engagement,” featuring the star, director and co-writing team behind the triumphant comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” resurrects that movie’s formula, with notably less success.

The new movie has a fine central romance, a super-deep supporting cast, a great beginning and a very strong ending. But in between is a middle section that isn’t very funny and seems to drag on forever.

The setup and follow-through are both superlative,  but what’s frustrating about “The Five-Year Engagement” is that it knows exactly where it’s going and takes way too long to get there. With a more judicious editor, it could have been a truly great comedy.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller, who co-wrote with Jason Segel, and with Judd Apatow’s name predictably in the credits as a producer,  “The Five-Year Engagement” stars Segel and Emily Blunt. They’re a San Francisco couple who meet and quickly become engaged. But when they’re forced for career reasons to move to Michigan, and other obstacles arise, the wedding is delayed again and again.

The film has a secondary couple, played by NBC Thursday night all-star team Chris Pratt (of Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Community). Playing Segel’s best friend and Blunt’s sister, respectively, they’re both just oustanding here, and I probably would’ve rather seen an entire movie about their marriage than about the other couple’s.

Brie, in particular, walks away with the movie; the scene in which she and Blunt conduct an adult conversation while imitating Cookie Monster and Elmo is the film’s biggest laugh.

The supporting cast is insanely large and filled with highly-regarded comedy performers, including Mindy Kaling, Lauren Weedman, Brian Posehn, Chris Parnell and Molly Shannon. Even the hot comedian of the moment, Kevin Hart, has about the movie’s fifteenth biggest part.

Once again, after Russell Brand in ‘Sarah Marshall,” Segel is given a British romantic antagonist, this time played by an unrecognizable Rhys Ifans. And kudos to whomever had the idea to cast David Paymer and Mimi Kennedy as Jason Segel’s parents.

This large cast may be part of the reason the movie goes on way longer than it should, creeping over the two-hour mark. The film has about five different segments that probably should’ve been deleted scenes on the DVD.

I’m thinking specifically of the scene, in which a big-nosed Jewish girl tries to seduce Segel by smearing deli food all over him, that’s just plain weird, and feels like it was spliced in from a completely different movie, or perhaps from a Philip Roth novel circa 1975.

The second act is so long, in fact, that it feels like longer than five years, despite the title. Especially since a kid who’s a baby at the beginning looks, halfway through the movie, to be about 7.

Since the protagonists are a chef and a psychology student, the movie also has to make time for lots of foodie jokes and psych-experiment jokes, padding the running time ever further. Then again, if only the food truck craze had reached Middle America two years earlier, the plot’s central conflict would have resolved itself in the first 20 minutes.

Remember Gene Siskel’s old maxim about asking whether a movie is more interesting than a documentary of all the same actors having lunch? Among Brie, Kaling, Pratt and Hart, “The Five-Year Engagement” might be the first comedy in which the actors’ Twitter feeds are funnier than the movie itself.

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