As gimmicks go, The Wedding Ringer doesn’t have the worst conceit to build a comedy around. Silly as it is, a professional best man getting up to hijinks with his socially inept client/groom while trying to pull one over on the bride is a concept with plenty of comedic potential. Unfortunately, The Wedding Ringer’s pitch proves largely inconsequential to the film’s cookie-cutter comedy, and instead becomes a burden to the plot once it’s gotten the ball rolling. That said, while the film’s comedy is uninspired and all too familiar; it’s not necessarily unfunny. The vanilla humor will have plenty of moviegoers checking their watch, but there is still something here for people who are able to switch off and settle in for some easy comedy.
Thanks to a career driven lifestyle and his general social awkwardness, Doug Harris (Josh Gad) is weeks away from his wedding and still without a best man. Afraid his should-be-out-of-his-league fiancé Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) will realize he doesn’t have any close friends (which I guess is a big deal, but couldn’t tell you why), Doug enlists the help of professional best man Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart) to pose as his made-up friend Bic and generally make Doug seem like more of a catch.
Structurally the film takes shape quite easily around its concept: Doug has no friends, Jimmy wants the relationship to remain professional, they bond while trying to fool Gretchen and her family, and finally realize they are the friends they both always wanted. All the plotting is pretty much done from the outset and writers Jay Lavender and Jeremy Garelick (who also directs) are free to sit back and concentrate on funny-ing up their neat little bromantic comedy (yes, it’s a genre now). But, instead, they trip over themselves trying to throw in additional complications and raising the stakes without really exploring the outcomes or (ever) knowing how to resolve them.
There’s a notable lack of confidence in the script, leaving the writers to try supplementing its shortcomings by haphazardly introducing and immediately dismissing new rules and obstacles. The most egregious example is probably when Jimmy tells Doug his case is what people in his business refer to as ‘A Golden Tuxedo’ (because there has to be a name for it), which is inexplicably an impossible undertaking and it’s pointless to even try. But then he changes his mind a minute or so later and aside from them being generally incompetent and causing trouble from themselves, the duo have no real problems at all with the whole charade and Doug’s apparently hopeless situation.
Despite being a little tired, the comedy is for the most part harmless and digestible, but there are few times it does slip into the irreparably juvenile. Hart and Gad passionately dancing with each other (because they’re both dudes, so it makes them look gay, which is funny right??) and setting Gretchen’s grandmother on fire are all pretty groan-inducing, but it’s the drawn out football match against Gretchen’s father and his friends that really drives the movie into the ground. Watching a group of geriatrics toss about the terrified groomsmen is already pretty childish, but the film milks it for as long as possible, tiring you out with various sports movie cliché’s until eventually Doug and the gang suddenly become inspired to win and magically start turning it around. Maybe it’s a little easy to pick apart one specific weak gag, but the dragging sequence is indicative of how often the writers distract themselves with completely unnecessary and immature diversions from what does work in the film.
These trip-ups aside, The Wedding Ringer does keep things rolling at a fun and bouncy pace, which is mostly thanks to Kevin Hart’s limitless onscreen energy. Love or hate his comedy, you can’t deny his charismatic personality or precise comedic delivery. It really is a shame the script can’t capitalize on the goofy concept of his character to really provide Hart something worthwhile to play with. While Hart feels like he could have been utilized better, Josh Gad on the other hand is utterly wasted. We’ve seen enough of Gad now to know what he has to offer, but here he spends the film as either straight man to Hart’s zaniness, or the butt of some really forced and uncomfortable fat jokes. And not in any ‘good on him for owning it’ kind of way, it feels cruel and lazy from the very first scene of the film. Given what Gad is given in this script it’s probably no surprise just how uncharacteristically withdrawn he seems.
Worse still, is just how unbelievable and contrived their relationship is. We’re meant to believe that the friendship they discover in each other is the driving force of the third act, but there just isn’t anything there. Nothing of substance catalyzes their sudden realization of comradery, nor does anything – besides some last-minute exposition – tell you they ever needed a friend to feel whole. The Wedding Ringer structures itself like a love story, but unlike other brom-coms, such as I Love You, Man or more recently with 22 Jump Street, you’re just not invested in either character or what (if anything) they mean to each other.
For all its faults, The Wedding Ringer isn’t beyond repair. The comedy flows freely and works fine outside of a few weak sequences, but it’s all for the lowest common denominator. Aside from some thoughtless fat and gay jokes, and the film’s women being utterly devoid of character and reduced to props, The Wedding Ringer is totally harmless. Plain, uninventive and easy, but harmless nonetheless. This is disposable Hollywood comedy through and through. If you’re happy to kick back for some cheap laughs, there are certainly worse films out there. But if you’re the least bit discerning over your comedy, The Wedding Ringer simply isn’t worth your time.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10