“The Wedding Ringer” Review: A Bromance-Comedy Destined To Fail
Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), as this film’s tagline suggests, is the best man money can buy. Jimmy has embarked on an entrepreneurial venture like none other. He hires himself out as a best-man-for-pay to grooms hurting for friends in their lives and certainly those who are absent one best friend close enough to be nominated for the position of the best man. Jimmy’s latest assignment is a daunting one. “Lazy mechanics serve to distract the audience away from a lackluster script the way the beam of a laser pointer will happily distract a house cat.”Doug Harris (Josh Gad) hires Jimmy to not only stand-in as his best man, but to also conjure seven fictive friends to serve as his entire wedding party. Along the way, Jimmy develops an authentic affinity for Doug that challenges all of his carefully selected and strictly enforced business practices.
Buddy comedies, and a goodly amount of comedy in general is a study in extremes that mask deeper similarities. Hart has made these extreme juxtapositions his stock and trade. He’s short, cocky, and frantic, making the stable of potential opposing costars near limitless. In The Wedding Ringer, he’s paired with hefty, schlubby Josh Gad. Gad’s Doug Harris is the nice guy, seemingly one who escaped the ending of a previous, unseen romantic comedy with the beautiful girl on his arm. He’s marrying a woman who, by his own admission, wouldn’t normally give him the time of day, but he’s lacking in anything resembling close friends. Meanwhile, Hart is the cocksure party pro whose charisma and Lothario conquests mask a deeper loneliness. He’s “everyone’s friend for hire and nobody’s when it really counts.”
The setup is solid, and all the ingredients are assembled for a perfectly adequate male-driven romantic comedy; a bromance. The point, at which The Wedding Ringer abandons us at the altar first, occurs during a flimsily constructed brunch table scene. When one watches a comedy, it’s not terribly dissimilar to watching science-fiction. The audience is keenly aware that they are no longer necessarily viewing the world in which they live and are willing to be transported to and immersed in the world of the film for the sake of laughs and spectacle respective to comedy and sci-fi. However, while this unspoken contract finds the viewer agreeing to suspend the rules of the real world, it also demands that the film adhere to those rules it has created during the first act.
The Wedding Ringer asks us to buy into a world where millions of guys can’t find a single friend in their lives to serve as their best man. Fine. It presents a world wherein Hart is able to operate as the perennial best man stand-in in the same city without ever being found out. Sure, why not. When the writers go out of their way to impress upon the audience that his business is thriving because he’s the most charming, charismatic pinch-hitter for a wedding day home run, why in the world is his first meeting with Doug’s in-laws marked by immediate conversational forays into the worlds of drug use and performing fellatio for money, incidentally culminating in a grandmother set on fire? Sorry, I could have sworn you told us he was good at the one thing he’s supposed to be good at!
So quickly, the already shoddily constructed premise of the film collapses. Still, there is hope within the dialogue. The repartee between perpetually awkward Doug and confident-to-a-fault Jimmy produce some of the film’s most genuine laughs, enhanced and sometimes matched by the interplay of bizarre personalities within the impostor groomsmen. What later becomes evident however is that many of these moments were either ad-libbed by the cast in the moment or the screenwriters had a very limited arsenal of clever quips. When that chamber empties, they throw the gun at us in the most obnoxious way imaginable.
In comedies, nothing screams “I’ve written myself into a corner” more loudly than random, idiotically overblown action sequences and gross-out genital humor. In The Wedding Ringer, one literally follows the other. We get to watch a dog suffer a bout of lockjaw and clamp down on Gad’s penis during the bachelor party, followed in short order by a high-speed, completely unnecessary chase with the police that should have landed each of the guys in jail for years, but no mention is even made of how they got off the hook afterwards. That sort of lazy mechanic serves to distract an audience away from a lackluster script the way the beam of a laser pointer will happily distract a house cat. That’s why it feels unfunny to the degree of utterly insulting.
What adds an extra layer of laziness to the proceedings is the apparent wholesale cribbing from Wedding Crashers at every turn. Jimmy’s obsession with concrete rules and esoteric acronyms resemble Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s litany of do’s and don’ts. Also, there is a scene in which Jimmy and the sister of the bride (played by the woefully under-utilized Olivia Thirlby) place wagers on which wedding cliche will next be featured at the rehearsal dinner. Hey, wouldn’t an admission that he’s been to so many weddings that he can pick out every cliche actually hurt Jimmy’s cover story? “Uh, don’t worry about that, here’s a needless football scene!” Yes, the final sad crib from Wedding Crashers involves a game of football in which one side is taking things far more seriously than the other. Hey, at least we have proof Joe Namath is still alive right? Touchdown!
It should be noted that Hart’s enthusiasm is commendable. The enthusiasm referenced here is not his wild, flailing physicality that has too long defined him as an actor and has now become as exhausting for the audience to watch as it must be for him to perform. The commendable enthusiasm is demonstrated in the emotional beats. While certainly not in danger of being dubbed an elite actor any time soon, Hart strives valiantly to give Jimmy depth. For all of the coasting he appears to be doing through the comedic notes — playing largely the same character we have seen from him again and again — he takes his time in the character’s low points and while it’s not 100% effective, there does seem to be some glimmering potential there.
All in all, The Wedding Ringer demonstrated the fleeting possibility that its thin premise might be compensated by a wealth of snappy dialogue and the honest-to-goodness chemistry between Hart and Gad. Unfortunately, the film squanders all good will by about the third instance of hopelessly overused comic desperation.
How It Stacks Up
Much as Adam Sandler has become the antidote to movie night, The Wedding Singer‘s inescapable charm sets it miles above the lackluster contender with the rhyming name.
The former steals from the latter, but the latter is still the more entertaining movie.