“CRAZY RICH ASIANS” — 3 stars — Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding; Ken Jeong, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan; PG-13 (suggestive sexual content and language); in general release
Based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name, Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” is a zany kind of “Cinderella” and “Meet the Parents” mashup about a young woman who discovers that her boyfriend is the heir of a real estate fortune.
Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, a kind and witty young economics professor at NYU who uses in-class poker games to illustrate a point. Things have been going well with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding), but she learns there is more to him than meets the eye when he invites her to attend a wedding in Singapore.
The first giveaway is a pair of first class plane tickets that make her feel like she’s traveling on an airborne resort. It turns out Nick is the heir of the illustrious Young family, an elite line of old money real estate moguls who are roughly the Asian equivalent of the British royal family.
Nick is scheduled to be Best Man for his longtime friend Charlie (Harry Shum Jr.), who also comes from money. It's soon clear to Rachel that the trip is more or less an audition — at least to Nick’s intimidating mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) — who quickly determines her son’s girlfriend isn’t up to the family standard.
The thrust of the story follows Rachel as she strains to make inroads with Nick’s family, all while being ushered through one high-priced event after another — such as a lavish bachelorette party on a private island resort.
True to its title, “Crazy Rich Asians” takes place almost entirely in the scope of Asia's ultra-wealthy elite. Even Rachel’s college friend Peik Lin Goh (played by a scene-stealing Awkwafina) lives in the kind of mega-mansion you’d expect to see on an old episode of MTV’s “Cribs.”
As a romantic comedy, “Crazy Rich Asians” is fun and funny, if a little formulaic. Wu is a thoroughly appealing and sympathetic lead, and Golding is solid if a little underdeveloped as Nick. The aforementioned Awkwafina is responsible for much of the “crazy” in the film’s title, and Ken Jeong gets in a few laughs of his own as Peik Lin’s father Wye Mun.
The social commentary is where things get interesting. As you might imagine, beneath the comic story, “Crazy Rich Asians” seems intent on telling the audience that wealth isn’t everything. In addition to Rachel’s underdog dynamic, one subplot follows Nick’s wealthy cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) as she deals with an unfaithful husband.
At the same time, “Crazy Rich Asians” is loaded top to bottom with conspicuous consumption (the bachelor party takes place on a freighter in the middle of the ocean), and at times, Chu seems perfectly happy to show off and celebrate the materialistic life at the same time his film is supposedly criticizing it.
To audiences on the lookout for a laugh and a good time, though, the subtext probably won’t matter. “Crazy Rich Asians” isn’t the most original romantic comedy out there, but it is a fun one, and it’s the only one that features a team of synchronized swimmers in a pool on top of an opulent luxury hotel.
As Rachel might say, sometimes you have to play the hand you're dealt.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is rated PG-13 for suggestive sexual content and language; running time: 120 minutes.