by Philip Price
Writer/director Jimmy Garelick and star Kevin Hart know what they have on their hands with “The Wedding Ringer.” It is clear from the first moment Hart shows up on screen and they wear it on their sleeve with a badge of honor. In what is essentially a mash-up of “Wedding Crashers” and “I Love You, Man” as well as any other movie you’ve ever seen with “wedding” in the title there is nothing innovative or unconventional about this film, but it has its laughs and that’s all that really matters. With that, the film breezes through its expected beats with a carefree tone and consistent laugh factor that kept the audience I saw it with rolling (granted, they did get to see it for free). Still, this is a film that not much was initially expected of and, if anything, solidified the fact that studios were definitely trying to mold Hart into the next Adam Sandler as here the comedian is blatantly ripping on the title of Sandler’s 1998 hit. Sandler is currently experiencing something of a slight drought in bankability and so the studios have moved in on who else they might turn to and Hart has proven a winning candidate so far. The man will allow them to throw together slapdash efforts of films that will turn huge profits on minuscule budgets year after year while trusting that the on-set riffs and improvisations are enough to satisfy audiences need for laughter. Yes, “The Wedding Ringer” is no doubt a film put together by a committee to appeal to as many people as possible and yes, it is predictable, slightly sexist with a cast of male chauvinist pigs at the core and never aspires to be more than it has to be, but in initially setting its bar so low it doesn’t have as hard a time surpassing that bar. I realize this isn’t high art, but it’s not intended to be and so, for what it’s worth, I found the film to be highly entertaining, extremely funny at parts and a raunch aspect that serves to ease the fact this is little more than a rom-com from the perspective of the fellas. “The Wedding Ringer” is what it is and if you buy a ticket knowing that, you’ll get what you want. I wanted a mindless comedy and that’s what I was given so consider me a happy customer, Mr. Hart.
Last winter I gave Hart’s R-rated effort, “About Last Night,” something of a lower grade than it probably deserved, but I wasn’t sure if what I’d seen was an anomaly yet. He’d already given us a generic PG-13 January release in “Ride Along” (which naturally will spawn a sequel) and followed it up with the disappointing “Think Like A Man Too,” but with allowing “The Wedding Ringer” to go with a hard R-rating the studio has given both Hart and director Garelick (which makes me want to quote Zoolander every time I type it) the opportunity to create something more in line with their own sensibilities. For this, we should be thankful, as otherwise this would have been as broad and generic as something starring Jennifer Lopez. That would be a waste not only of Hart’s comedic talent, but of the rather wonderful supporting cast that has been collected here. Our story centers around Doug Harris (Josh Gad, voice of Olaf in “Frozen”) who is playing the lovable but socially awkward groom-to-be. He seemingly has two problems on his hands in that 1.) he has no friends and therefore no best man or groomsmen and 2.) he is engaged to a girl out of his league who may or may not be settling with the lovable loser. With less than two weeks to go until he marries the so-spoiled-you-can-hear-it-in-her-name Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), Doug has to act fast. When his wedding planner (Ignacio Serricchio) realizes the depths of Doug’s predicament he refers him to Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), owner and CEO of Best Man, Inc. Jimmy’s company provides flattering best men for socially challenged guys in need. As Doug is in need of not only a best man, but a full wedding party complete with six groomsmen Jimmy will have to pull off a job known as “The Golden Tux,” a stint never before attempted. You can see where things will likely go from here, but that doesn’t matter as much as the chemistry between the players and there is plenty of that to spare.
The core of the film is the unexpected budding bromance between Doug and his fake best man, Jimmy. Addressing this relationship first and its inevitability is to speak to the camaraderie quickly set-up by Hart and Gad. Per usual, Hart is something of a spastic ball of energy that bounces from one scene to the next and spits out one-liners so fast you can hardly comprehend them if you’re not in the right mind-set. Gad, on the other hand, has a certain something about his subtle comedic stylings that make him a kind of perfect model for the straight man to Hart’s big presence. This has been a long time coming for Gad it seems as he first appeared on the scene in “21,” but stole the show as Jake Gyllenhaal’s brother in “Love & Other Drugs.” The guy knows how to balance solid comedic timing as he can play the awkward loser complimented by his physical appearance, but has the unique ability to transcend that facade and create a legitimate “one of the dudes” persona that we believe as a credible melding of attitudes and interests when the remainder of the motley crew of groomsmen show up. Gad and Hart work well together and while Hart is still essentially playing the same guy he always does, Gad somehow pulls more weight out of the otherwise typical performance by giving Hart something real to react to. Gad forms a fully functioning member of society with a clear arc, a real backstory that effects his day to day and a deep-seeded need to just relax that infiltrates this character. There isn’t much to think about in “The Wedding Ringer,” but Gad subtly brings unexpected layers to Doug and in turn requires more from our lead than he might have usually put forward. It is a good look for both Gad and Hart and to that point, I wouldn’t mind seeing them on screen together again. This relationship is only enhanced by the inclusion of the rest of the groomsmen that include Kip (Alan Ritchson), Lurch (Jorge Garcia), Reggie (Affion Crockett), Endo (Aaron Takahashi), Bronstein (Dan Gill), Plunkett (Colin Kane) and Otis (Corey Holcomb).
There is little time wasted in this lightning-quick comedy as the main characters are established, the major dramatic question is set and within the first half hour we are well on our way to the first “big” scene where Cloris Leachman is present to basically catch on fire. It is this mentality in both the directing and writing that Garelick operates best by letting his actors take the script and use it to their advantage. There are clearly scenes that have been given precedent over the ones that are necessary to move the plot along, but these are the scenes that will stand out for their ability to be “of the moment” rather than doing anything to necessarily add to the narrative (Put the weed in the coconut!). You could make excuses that these scenes are set-up to build the friendship between our two leads, but this could be done in more proficient, relevant ways. Isn’t it more fun to see a car chase, a backyard football game with senior citizens and a dance off though? I thought so, at least in this context. While Garelick still has much room to grow in his directing style as this could have literally been made by anyone (with the aforementioned car chase scene serving as a prime example of the amateur approach) he at least provides a clear intent as far as tone in his visual representation of the well-defined characters he has written in his screenplay with Jay Lavender (“The Break-Up”). It is the combination of the cast that really allows the jokes from the otherwise well-worn premise to rise above the mediocrity it could have so easily become. The remainder of the ensemble that includes the likes of Olivia Thirlby as the obligatory love interest for Jimmy, Mimi Rogers and Ken Howard as Gretchen’s overbearing parents and Jenifer Lewis as Jimmy’s secretary/wise old lady guide blends well together to create a world where the likes of Whitney Cummings as an annoying bridesmaid and Jeffrey Ross as a wedding singer all make sense. Like I said, this isn’t high art and you of course shouldn’t go in expecting such, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time with this and that I’d mind watching it again because I would … right now if I could.