Romance without the big names


Two romantic comedies -- “Maid in Manhattan” starring Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes and “Two Weeks Notice” starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant -- have been delighting movie audiences over the Christmas holiday season, often running neck-and-neck at the box office.

Now, a third romantic comedy will test the question of whether stars really matter so much in what is basically a tried-and-true formulaic genre.

The movie is “Just Married.” The 20th Century Fox release, opening Friday, chronicles the beleaguered romance of Tom (Ashton Kutcher) and Sarah (Brittany Murphy), a young couple unexpectedly swept off their feet after their first meeting. To her parents, Tom’s attempts to assimilate himself into Sarah’s world of privilege and expectations fall short, but she follows her heart and marries her knight in rusty armor. What follows, however, is a honeymoon from hell involving an ex-boyfriend and a string of bad luck.


Murphy has received strong notices for her dramatic roles as Eminem’s squeeze in “8 Mile” and a psychiatric patient in “Don’t Say a Word” with Michael Douglas. “Just Married” will test whether she also has the gift for comedy.

Paul Dergarabedian of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations Co. notes that had “Just Married” featured big-name stars like those in “Maid in Manhattan” and “Two Weeks Notice,” the marketplace might have been too competitive for the new film to break out of the pack. But because the film should appeal to a slightly younger audience than either of the other two movies, “Just Married” might provide Fox with a happy send-off.

-- Robert W. Welkos