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Maid Marryin' 

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"27 Dresses" flounces into theaters heralding the Valentine season, scattering rose petals with abandon and leaving a pastel trail of candy hearts in its wake. About a perennial bridesmaid's fight to win top billing at a wedding of her own, there is no real heartache or enough unexpected notes (outside the occasional pettish outcry, unwelcome twist of fate or snarky zinger from the supporting cast) to make this Manhattan fairy tale anything more than a slight and forgettable exercise in formulaic plotting.

There's certainly no faulting the star, Katherine Heigl, whose Jane, the maid of many dreadful wedding-party dresses, seems able to draw on an infinite store of cheerful pluck, even in the face of thwarted passion. Although Jane has a childish fixation with treacly newspaper accounts of Manhattan weddings, and even though she moons in secret over her adorable boss (Edward Burns), Heigl gives Jane's sometimes chirpy pronouncements a fringe of anxiety, so that she never becomes merely a cardboard incarnation of perky resilience or ceaseless self-denial.

Jane's humdrum life is knocked out of its monotonous orbit when her sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), a model straight from the runways of Milan, blows into town and makes a beeline for the man of Jane's dreams. In a simultaneous assault, Jane is beset by the attentions of Kevin (James Marsden), a flirt who runs down marriage with cynical observations about prenups, divorce rates and so on. But unbeknownst to Jane, Kevin is in fact the author of the matrimonial journalism that sets her swooning. While secrets are slowly unwound and facades dismantled, Jane's tart friend Casey (Judy Greer) stands on the sidelines kibitzing and generally trying her best to put some backbone into her endlessly accommodating pal.

Overlong at an hour and 47 minutes, "27 Dresses" flounders around in its first half, wasting time with Jane's sad-sack father (Brian Kerwin) and needlessly delaying the film's predictable, plot-propelling crises. Even at the end of the brisk, final half hour, a sappy coda is appended, in which the faults of even the most unlikable characters are airbrushed away. Like its protagonist, "27 Dresses" undoes itself with niceness. (PG-13) 107 min. S



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