Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder attempt to revive the classic romantic comedy in Destination Wedding

The world around us might be constantly changing, but some things never go out of style. Case in point: Destination Wedding, a film that is nothing less than a revival of the classic romantic comedy of the mid-20th century – those witty battles of the sexes that Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant excelled at.

While smartphones and shouty TV news panels place the action firmly in the present, the plot could easily fit into a bygone era: Frank, a massive misanthrope, and Lindsay, a neurotic train wreck, meet at an airport terminal, waiting for a charter flight to San Luis Obispo in California’s wine country. By coincidence, they’re both attending the same wedding, but neither is keen on going and neither is really welcome there. They take an instant severe dislike to each other and proceed to trade barbs of exquisite nastiness – a sure sign they’ll fall madly in love by the time the credits roll.

The abrasive couple is portrayed by Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, stars synonymous with the 1990s who have both enjoyed recent comebacks. The two have decent chemistry and are eminently believable as 40-something singles painfully aware they’ve missed the matrimonial boat – Lindsay still struggles to cope, but Frank has resigned himself with twisted pleasure.

Does Frank believe there’s someone for everyone, Lindsay asks? Frank can barely contain a smile: “Close. I believe there’s no one for anyone.”

The blueprint is well-established: Two quick-witted, confirmed singles whose animosity is second only to their abhorrence of marriage itself, go at each other like cats and dogs … before realizing they’re made for each other. But not before surviving a gauntlet of hurdles and a crazy mix-up or two.

Destination Wedding modifies the formula, eschewing the madcap antics while writer- director Victor Levin turns the repartee up to peak volume: Whether they’re involved in the rehearsal dinner, the ceremony, a near-death experience or a hilariously awkward sex scene, Frank and Lindsay are locked in a verbal wrestling match. It’s a good thing too, as this film is a pas de deux – the entire wedding party consists of nonspeaking extras who serve only as distant targets for the couple’s withering ire.

A Mile a Minute

Which is part of the problem: While Levin can easily match the masters quip for quip, he lacks the sense of comedic timing of a Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch or Billy Wilder. Destination Wedding is a constant barrage of brilliant put-downs that can leave viewers struggling to keep up. The frenetic pace is more Marx Brothers than His Girl Friday – and even Groucho let up every now and then to give the audience time to recover.

It’s exacerbated by the film’s brevity: Coming in at just under 90 minutes, Destination Wedding is packed with cleverly constructed lines, but feels rushed. With little time for character development and no supporting cast to play off of, the protagonists struggle to endear themselves to the audience – vital when hurling abuse, even if it’s funny. Frank has a backstory that partially explains his anti-social tendencies, but it gets lost in the noise. Lindsay’s history is hardly touched upon, except for learning that she was jilted by the groom. This is one of the rare cases where a little less of a good thing – or 20 minutes’ more story – would have meant a great deal.

Still, Destination Wedding has its moments and more than a few memorable lines; for a pleasant summer distraction, you could do a lot worse. But it’ll take another movie to fully rediscover the lost art of the classic romantic comedy.

Starts Aug 3, Artis International. 1., Schultergasse 5, cineplexx.at