A dissonant The Wedding Ringer

January 16, 2015

The Wedding Ringer

71

Cast: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Cloris Leachman
Director: Jeremy Garelick
Rating: R, for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity
Running time:

By Jen Chaney
Special To The Washington Post

poster_105337The most disappointing thing in The Wedding Ringer isn’t the tasteless, unfunny gag involving a bachelor party, a dog, some dollops of peanut butter and a few other details that can’t and shouldn’t be printed in a family newspaper. It’s not the perpetuation of gender stereotypes that are so outdated, they make the notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus seem wildly progressive. It isn’t even the part where a grandmother (played by Cloris Leachman) goes up in flames while her family watches her burn.
What’s truly regrettable about The Wedding Ringer is that, at certain moments, it almost succeeds as a heartfelt comedy about male friendship in which its two stars, Josh Gad and Kevin Hart, get to demonstrate that they can act. Just when you start to care a little about the soon-to-be-married schlub (Gad) and the professional he hires to pose as his best man (Hart), this tonally confused farce careens back into shock-and-bawdy territory, seemingly determined to prove it has more than earned its R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.

As scripted by The Break-Up co-writers Jay Lavender and Jeremy Garelick, The Wedding Ringer is essentially a mashup of Wedding Crashers and I Love You, Man. Gad — best known as the voice of Olaf in Frozen — is Doug, a guy with no close friends who has somehow convinced golden girl Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) to marry him. The problem is, he’s got no one to stand beside him and prevent the wedding pictures from looking lopsided. So, he turns to Jimmy Callahan (Hart), the proprietor of Best Man, Inc., a company that provides best men and groomsmen to the wedding party-challenged.

Jimmy offers options depending on the level of service required, but he’s never encountered anyone who needed to book the Golden Tuxedo: the use of a best man and seven additional groomsmen. Enter Doug, who eagerly signs up for the Charlie Browniest of wedding packages, which comes with one important caveat: The arrangement doesn’t mean that Doug and Jimmy — who assumes the official Fake Best Man name Bic Mitchum — are friends in real life. Which, of course, means that Doug and Jimmy will start to become friends in real life.

Like so many Judd Apatow releases, The Wedding Ringer tries to shift seamlessly between the raunchy and the sentimental. Hart, an Apatow alumnus, has some sense of how to walk that line. Although he’s built his stardom on his shtick as a human powder keg, Hart proves that he knows when to tone it down, particularly in one poolside heart-to-heart in which he and Doug confide in each other about the lack of connection in their lives. A dance floor set piece that requires the two to bust moves that range from the tango to the Dougie is both ridiculous and kind of sweet at the same time.

But Garelick, who makes his directorial debut here, doesn’t know how to maintain that tricky balance between sentimental and quote-unquote edgy. Too much of what’s supposed to pass for hilarious antics in The Wedding Ringer translates as mean-spirited slapstick that flies in the face of the rest of what’s happening in the movie. That includes a dirty football game in which Doug and his groomsmen face off against Doug’s future father-in-law (Ken Howard, in a particularly unsavory role) and a team of fellow olds that happens to include Joe Namath and John Riggins.

As for Cuoco-Sweeting, her character is basically a cardboard cutout of a woman, which is in keeping with this movie’s often-repeated philosophy about gender roles: Women like emotional connection and fancy weddings, while guys gravitate toward big-screen TVs, emotional distance and drunk go-kart racing.

The Wedding Ringer feels like it was designed to cater to those two imaginary extremes of the human experience, thereby guaranteeing that people who like movies about kinda-sorta real relationships (females) and people who like movies with penis jokes (males) will buy tickets. What the makers of The Wedding Ringer fail to realize is that what all of us want from a comedy, regardless of how many X or Y chromosomes are embedded in our DNA, is a movie with a distinct point of view that earns its laughs naturally. The Wedding Ringer is not that movie.

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