Dev Patel clearly got Daniel Craig's mail by mistake. Or Idris Elba's. Maybe Jet Li's. There's no regulation requiring every member of the Screen Actors Guild to have the skill set necessary to carry an action film, of course. That's good news for Patel. For moviegoers, not so much. He does an unconvincing Jason Statham in his genre debut.
The Wedding Guest invites Patel to play a generic man of mystery who does generic things with semiautomatic weapons and globe trots generically from Britain to Pakistan to India while generically falling for the bride-to-be he kidnaps the night before her nuptials. He's your standard Man With No Name. The bride is called Samira and is played by Radhika Apte. Are you sitting down? She's not who she seems to be.
Patel's character has been hired by Samira's boyfriend, Deepesh (Jim Sarbh), to save her from the fate of an arranged marriage. Why Patel was recruited for the mission and whether he's done anything like this before are questions the script, from writer-director Michael Winterbottom (The Trip), never answers. All we know is that he's being handsomely compensated and that the relationship between Samira and Deepesh is not what it seems. This is the sort of movie in which nothing is.
With one exception: From its opening scene, the narrative seems woefully short on compelling ideas. Once I made it to the closing credits after 97 minutes of waiting for something compelling to occur, it was clear that, yup, it was ho-hum from start to finish. A thriller without a thrill. An action film in which the action is mostly limited to Patel phoning shady contacts to place orders for fake passports, driving rental cars from one bustling, overcrowded locale to the next, and brooding. For a guy with pocketsful of dough and a comely travel companion who's continually making moves on him, he sure spends a lot of time brooding.
The plot, such as it is, turns on Patel being forced to kill a guard as he makes his escape with Samira on the night of the abduction. The guard's murder and woman's disappearance make news around the globe. They also make Deepesh less enthusiastic about reuniting with the love of his life. Despite the concerns Deepesh repeatedly raises about attracting unwanted attention from the authorities, however, there's never any suggestion that the police are looking for Samira, much less closing in — a major miscalculation on the filmmaker's part. Some cat-and-mouse suspense might've gone a long way toward injecting this inert, meandering slog with a much-needed emotional jolt.
Instead, we wait patiently for some twist or surprise, only to watch Patel phone in orders for more fake passports, do business with even more car rental agencies and, it goes without saying, brood. I can't imagine what anyone involved with The Wedding Guest could possibly have thought was the point.
Don't be duped by reviews that gush about the picture's atmospheric locales. If you've seen one bustling, overcrowded Indian city, you've pretty much seen them all. And pay no attention to critics who suggest the filmmaker is commenting on the culture's outdated gender dynamics. Apart from the plot point involving arranged marriage, they're not even on his radar. Winterbottom has done marvelous work in the past — but, dearly beloved, with leads who generate negative chemistry and a globe-trotting plot that goes nowhere, we are gathered here today to say, "Michael, WTF?" Believe me, you'll wish you didn't RSVP.