The Wedding Ringer (2015) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity
Running Time: 101 min.

Cast: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Ken Howard, Olivia Thirlby, Dan Gill, Affion Crockett, Jorge Garcia, Aaron Takahashi, Alan Ritchson, Corey Holcomb, Colin Kane, Ignacio Serricchio, Jenifer Lewis, Mimi Rogers, Cloris Leachman, Whitney Cummings, Nicky Whelan
Small roles and cameos: Joe Namath, Ed 'Too Tall' Jones, John Riggins
Director: Jeremy Garelick
Screenplay: Jeremy Garelick, Jay Lavender

Review published January 19, 2015

Raunchy comedies are a tricky business.  You have to be a truly skilled and insightful screenwriter to deliver funny laughs that also push the boundaries of taste to get the ones that have people rollicking in their seats.  Unfortunately, when the screenwriters don't deliver the characters and story we can believe in, it comes off as gimmicky, crass, and desperate.  The Wedding Ringer is a prime example of this.

Josh Gad (Wish I Was Here, Frozen) plays Doug Harris, a portly but financially successful oaf who has always had a hard time making friends.  Now on the cusp of his wedding with lovely Gretchen (Cuoco, Lucky 13), he's embarrassed that, because he's a loner in life, he doesn't have any groomsmen -- not even a best man.  Luckily for Doug, a businessman named Jimmy Callahan (Hart, Top Five) runs a service meant to help out guys like him -- The Best Man Inc. -- whereby the gregarious man will come to the wedding and be the greatest friend to the groom there can be, enlivening the party and making sure the loser comes out looking like a big winner.  

However, Doug doesn't need just one more groomsman -- he needs all seven, including the best man! Jimmy refers to this as the 'Golden Tux', something unheard of and thought impossible to pull off.  With only a short amount of time, Jimmy has to find six other men who can pass as Doug's lifelong friends, and convince the family that all is legit in the ramp-up and day of the big wedding.

Playing like a mash-up of Hitch and Bridesmaids, it's easy to see why this project had been green-lit in the hopes that it would take off in similar fashion.  The inclusion of Kevin Hart will already draw a ready-made audience of his fans, and the fact that it's a wedding flick, and one that's coming out just a few weeks before Valentine's Day, makes it something of a date movie that guys won't mind going to as much, since it is a "bromantic comedy" at its heart.  For what it's worth, Hart and Gad work well enough together to suggest they might actually connect big if they were to appear in something much closer to a quality movie in the future.

Even if it does crib from classic relationship mentoring and wedding films quite a bit, The Wedding Ringer fails from a main premise that doesn't hold any form of logic.  It is ridiculous to believe in this day and age that a bride wouldn't already know whether her hubby-to-be has friends, and if so, who they are.  Secondly, even if, for some reason that is impossible to imagine, they do manage to make it to the altar when the groom fakes such lifelong friendships, the fact that they will all disappear would be extremely suspicious, and the lack of honesty will unravel the marriage faster than just about anything.  I mean, what happens when they look at wedding photos and wonder where all these friends have gone? 

Or what happens when someone runs in to any of these guys around town, or at another wedding, where they are different characters?  The diminutive Hart stands out at just about every wedding -- surely, since he works in the same city, someone somewhere would make the connection that the same pint-sized motor-mouth in a different disguise (if he didn't stand out enough, at all events we're shown, the only prominent African-American) is always making the big toast to the groom.

The script by first-time director Jeremy Garelick and writing partner Jay Lavender (the duo also scripted The Break-Up) seems to have only one rule, and that's to go for easy laughs.  One ridiculous premise has Doug trying to prove to his future father-in-law Ed (Howard, The Judge) that he isn't some sort of "pussy" by trying to show off that he is tough enough to play football.  It's Doug and his team of groomsmen vs. Ed and his team of ex-NFL superstars like Joe Namath, John Riggins, and Ed 'Too Tall' Jones (71-year-old Joe Namath barely looks like he can even hand off a ball anymore, much less throw a pass in this flick).  How does Ed know these guys?  Why are they risking their bodies to play a game of tackle football with a bunch of young guys?  What does this have to do with anything?  It's silly and diversionary.

Then there are the gags that make absolutely no sense.  Jimmy throws Doug a bachelor party of sorts, and even hires a woman out to seduce him.  Does this make sense to do?  Anyway, it gets worse when Jimmy, who is being paid $50k for his services, publicly humiliates Doug by blindfolding him for a scene in which it appears as if he is about to get fellatio from said paid model, but it's really a dog (basset hound, I think?) lapping up peanut butter off of his genitals (this is a utterly tasteless and deplorable joke used already in Dumb and Dumber To and needs to JUST STOP!)  It gets worse. Even though Doug thinks it is a hot babe (Whelan, Left Behind), he enjoys it (never mind that he knows it is cheating).  It gets worse.  The hungry dog bites Doug's genitals and then won't let go, and the people at the party end up knocking the dog unconscious in trying to get him to stop.  It gets worse.  The unconscious dog can't be taken off because he has lockjaw and now Jimmy has a dog's teeth clamped down on his johnson and has to go to the hospital. 

Someone, please, tell me how in the world Jimmy stays in business after shaming his client in the most horrific and embarrassing of fashions, causes him gross bodily harm, nearly kills an innocent animal, and endangers the lives of others in a mad dash to the hospital where the medical expenses alone will rival the cost of the services Doug is paying for?

I should take an aside here to mention that the above scene caused at least two separate, obviously offended couples to walk out of the theater at my screening.  I wished I could have gone with them, but I have a review to write, so I sacrificed further displeasure for you, and hope you appreciate it.  My intention is not to spoil the film for you, but as this entire sequence has nothing to do with the main plot, and I could save you a lot of time and money if you're offended by forced and graphic scenes of bestiality and animal cruelty.  I suppose it's to be expected from an effort that sees the elderly family matriarch nearly third-degree burns all over her body after catching on fire as a lynchpin joke of the movie. (Her son asks afterward, "How do you like your grandma? Medium, Well Done, etc.")

Then there is the scene, again just for gags, of Jimmy and Doug dancing at another wedding.  The film contrives that Doug's mother made him take dance classes for 12 years as an explanation for why he is so good now.  And then Jimmy and Doug dance in synchronized fashion, so obviously they took the same dance classes?  And then Doug performs more modern dance moves like "The Dougie", which means that his dance instructor invented the dance about a decade prior to its popularity (not only this, but the elderly wedding singer actually knows the song(!).  We might as well have capped this sequence off with the sight of Josh Gad twerking.  It's a fat man dancing -- comedy gold!! (Ugh.)

Then there is a spoof aspect that makes no sense, such as a sequence that riffs on the end of The Usual Suspects in which Gretchen begins to see that Doug may have made up all of his friend's names from things he saw around the house.  And then there is a car jump that is done to the score of E.T.'s 'ride across the moon' sequence.  As the movie never was built on being a satire, this send-up of a famous move scenes feels woefully out of place in this flick.  The film actually ends on a line from actor Jorge Garcia on sitting on a seat in an airplane uttering, "I have a bad feeling about this flight."  Would this possibly make ANY sense as a joke to anyone who didn't know the TV show, "LOST"?  And even if you got the reference, why end the movie with a one-off joke that doesn't tie in with the rest of the film?

One final observation that may provide an answer:  There's a scene in which Jimmy tells Doug that if he gets into a spot where he is asked a question that he doesn't know how to answer, he should change the subject by complimenting (if it's a woman) or returning a question (if it's a man).  Basically, the idea is to change the subject and hope that the inquisitive person will be so pacified by the misdirection that they'll forget what they asked.  Garelick and Lavender must have kept this formula in mind for their entire film as they wrote those words, as The Wedding Ringer is nothing if not a series of comedic misdirections that flings stupid or vulgar gag set pieces at the audience in the hope that we will be so pacified laughing that we don't notice that there really isn't much of an interesting or plausible movie underneath. 

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo