The Wedding Ringer is a mixed, but overall enjoyable, dramedy - one that includes a number of laugh-out-loud scenes couched in an often clumsy story.
The Wedding Ringer follows Doug Harris (Josh Gad) and his fiancee, Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), as they prepare for their impending nuptials. A busy, and introverted, financial analyst, Doug has little time for close friends - leaving him with no groomsman to stand alongside him at the wedding. Afraid to tell Gretchen that all of his friends (and the stories he's told about them) are entirely made-up, Doug turns to a professional "Wedding Ringer," Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), who - for a hefty price - pretends to be a childhood companion for groomsman-less guys on their big day.
Yet, even Jimmy has never faced a case as hopeless as Doug: Doug doesn't just require a fake best friend, he also needs seven groomsman to pair with Gretchen's sizable bridal party, forcing Jimmy to call-in old favors and former wedding ringer colleagues in order to pull-off "The Golden Tux" (a feat no wedding ringer has ever successfully accomplished). As the wedding draws near, Jimmy and his team drag Doug out of his comfort zone, but the Wedding Ringer begins to worry that his latest customer might be growing too attached to this paid-for group of buddies - and could be in a for a rude awakening when they all disappear from his life after the wedding night.
Following over twelve years in development limbo (with Hangover director Todd Philips attached at one point), Screen Gems finally brought The Wedding Ringer (originally titled The Golden Tux) to the big screen - from director Jeremy Garelick (who co-penned the original script). While the movie marks Garelick's directorial debut, the filmmaker previously wrote The Break-Up with script partner (and Wedding Ringer co-writer) Jay Lavender. As a result, The Wedding Ringer is a mixed, but overall enjoyable, dramedy - one that includes a number of laugh-out-loud scenes couched in an often clumsy story. Thanks to a clever script, hard-hitting physical antics, as well as likable performances from Gad and Hart, The Wedding Ringer delivers harmless comedy hijinks but the overall impact of the film is marred by Garelick's inexperience behind the camera and several underdeveloped (not to mention familiar) plot lines.
The core "Wedding Ringer" idea provides some fun (and even heartfelt) payoff - thanks, as indicated, to smart juxtapositions between Gad and Hart (as well as their characters); though, Garelick falls short in attempts to develop the premise into a complete narrative arc. The Wedding Ringer is packed with zany characters and fresh comedy encounters but the final film, especially the third act, uses a heavy hand - one that simply fails to balance development and earned punch.
Many of the movie's thematic rumination is outright explained in lengthy scenes of expository dialogue while key supporting characters are funneled through half-baked plot threads. Garelick presents a steady stream of funny gags and shrewd one-liners but, with only a brief 101 minutes of screen time, it's apparent that a significant amount of subtle character development was sacrificed to the cutting room floor. For that reason, it isn't always clear how the audience should feel about key support characters - until they are reframed as shallow outlines with on-the-nose moments of last-minute clarification.
Instead of a gender-balanced romantic comedy, The Wedding Ringer is actually much more akin to the brand of straightforward bromance comedy depicted in 2009's I Love You, Man (starring Jason Segel and Paul Rudd). Hart and Gad, along with a zany ensemble of supporting players (Alan Ritchson, Affion Crockett, Jorge Garcia, and Anthony L. Fernandez) offer plenty of outrageous moments that will have no trouble eliciting harmless laughs from theatergoers. The leads are an engaging pairing - with fun juxtapositions rife in comedy potential. Hart is mainly playing-off his offscreen persona but Gad (Frozen and Jobs) continues to show that he's capable of relatable drama - even amidst penis jokes.
Still, Garelick spends a lot of time attempting to unpack the complicated relationship between Doug (as a client) and Jimmy (as a caring but determined businessman) - while endeavoring to say something meaningful about love and friendship. Unfortunately, any of Hart and Gad's more earnest moments simply do not live up to the bar set by their kooky interactions and come across as thin impression of far superior, and memorable, movie bromances - especially the aforementioned I Love You, Man. Similarly, fan-favorite comedy talents Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and Ken Howard are tossed in as little more than single layer caricatures - designed to set Gad and Hart up for gags but afforded few laughs of their own. Cuoco-Sweeting (a People's Choice Award winner) is especially wasted, making her straight man Big Bang Theory character, Penny, appear downright nuanced by comparison. Olivia Thirlby (Juno and Dredd) is also underutilized - easily the biggest victim of Garelick's barebones storytelling (in spite of a serviceable performance from the actress).
Nevertheless, while The Wedding Ringer fails to utilize its supporting cast, Garelick proves he has sharp comedic timing - with some genuinely hilarious quick cuts and call backs, along with playful winks to the audience (e.g., the film's closing line). In fact, those looking for a guilty pleasure comedy may find that The Wedding Ringer beats out many of 2014's best dramedies in sheer laugh-out-loud moments. That said, in his effort to translate both the heart and hilarity of his original script to the big screen, Garelick only succeeds with the humor portion - making The Wedding Ringer a funny but surprisingly emotionless wedding movie.
The Wedding Ringer runs 101 minutes and is Rated R for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity. Now playing in theaters.
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