Mark Reviews Movies

The Wedding Ringer


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jeremy Garelick

Cast: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Jorge Garcia, Affion Crockett, Olivia Thirlby, Ken Howard, Alan Ritchson, Jenifer Lewis, Mimi Rogers, Ignacio Serricchio, Cloris Leachman, Nicky Whelan

MPAA Rating: R (for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 1/16/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 15, 2015

The Wedding Ringer is crude while only occasionally becoming vulgar. It's rude without ever becoming mean-spirited. For a movie that features a scene of someone's grandmother accidentally catching fire, that's saying something. Then again, it is a movie featuring a scene of someone's grandmother accidentally catching fire. That says something, too, and perhaps more loudly than the tone with which the movie sets grandma ablaze.

Tone is vital, and it's especially so in a movie such as this one, which constantly steps up to the line between bad taste and outright misanthropy, plays at crossing over that line, and then retreats from it with a sly smirk on its face. Maybe that's giving the screenplay by director Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender too much credit. It's very possible that the movie never crosses the line because its big gags are too static. The majority of the movie's larger comic sequences set up a joke and then proceed to tell it over and over again. If the joke didn't cross the line in the first place, it certainly isn't going to get any closer to that line by way of repeated recitations.

Still, the jokes here are intermittently funny, although most of that has to do with the way the lead actors approach the material. Yes, when the bigger gags fail, it feels as if they're flailing around without much purpose, but in the movie's moments of setup and in its more subdued moments of verbal exchanges, it provides Kevin Hart and Josh Gad opportunities to play that age-old scenario of the jokester and straight man. They do it well enough to partially cover for the screenplay's repetition and false starts.

Hart plays Jimmy Callahan, a best man for hire who provides friendless loners with the opportunity to look much cooler and more popular than they actually are on their big day. Gad plays Doug, one of those friendless loners. He is about to marry Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) and doesn't have a single groomsman. In his haste to provide Gretchen, whom he believes is out of his league, the perfect wedding she wants, Doug has lied about having friends who can fill the wedding party.

That's where Jimmy comes into the picture. He'll play Doug's best man—one "Bic Mitchum"—and provide the fake friends necessary to complete Doug's charade. It's a package that Jimmy calls the "Golden Tux," He has never attempted it, and when Doug points out that the fact that the package has a name is evidence that it's doable, Jimmy retorts that there's a name for a horse with a single horn, too.

That's the kind of banter in which Jimmy and Doug engage, and together, Hart and Gad are likeable enough and have a certain degree of comedic harmony to keep the exposition-filled scenes afloat. Jimmy gives Doug a crash course is effective lying and obfuscation (compliments, questions, and, when against a wall, just saying a string of random words—a technique that Doug discovers is difficult to master in the amusing buildup to the now-infamous "Grandma's on fire" scene), while Doug explains the kind of man "Bic Mitchum" is—namely a Catholic priest who joined the military. As evidence that sometimes the simpler jokes that don't draw attention to themselves are funnier, Jimmy shows up to meet Gretchen and her family dressed in a black shirt with a clerical collar and camouflage pants.

Once grandma (who, incidentally, is played by Cloris Leachman) is set aflame, though, the movie's comic priorities shift. It becomes more focused on longer sequences of mayhem instead of shorter bursts of likely improvised chitchat. The comedic returns are diminished. There's a touch football game that pits Doug and his group of friends against his future father-in-law (Ken Howard) and his old teammates, who include a few aged-but-still-professional ringers. The joke is that the game becomes one of full-contact—and then some—before any of the amateurs can prepare themselves, and the sequence just becomes a montage of bodies taking blow after blow.

Doug's impromptu bachelor party similarly relies on montage before throwing in a joke involving peanut butter, a dog, and a poorly timed case of lockjaw (Do the math on that one). The gag comes out of nowhere, and the resulting escapade, involving a fast drive to the hospital briefly interrupted by a cop, feels unrelated. The screenplay sets up one comedic premise and just goes in a separate direction to resolve it.

There's no sense of escalation to these long-form jokes (The same can be said of the story and characters: For example, Gretchen goes from woman-of-a-guy's-dreams to something else entirely in an instant). The Wedding Ringer throws these jokes out there and hopes that something—anything—will stick. When a joke does land (and, as mentioned before, it does on occasion), it's more a matter of luck than of craft.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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