I was surprised by The Wedding Ringer. Actually, I should clarify that statement: I didn’t hate The Wedding Ringer. Released in the January doldrums, backing Kevin Hart as its headline act and sticking by a title that sounds uncomfortably familiar to that other wedding movie from over a decade ago, not much was weighing in its favor. The movie, while entirely predictable and with the occasional questionably offensive joke, never becomes the broad, pandering slap-stick-a-thon its scant trailers make it out to be. Unfortunately, on the other hand, I’d be hard pressed to argue that anyone walking out of the theater this weekend will remember it come the Spring.
Kevin Hart plays Jimmy Callahan, the self-described wedding ringer, who sells a sort of best-friend-for-hire service to friendless grooms. At varying levels of service, he attends rehearsal dinners, talks up the groom to family, and gives a big, emotional toast at the end of it all. Enter Josh Gad’s Doug Harris, who plans to marry Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting in a role that will make fans of The Big Bang Theory enjoy the film ten times over by imagining Penny finally got her big break), but is coming up far short on the groomsmen part of the wedding.
The movie opens with Doug calling up old friends he hasn’t seen in years asking them to be his Best Man. There’s a hint of sweetness to it – a sort of I Love You, Man promise – that goes crashing to the floor along with Doug in a dud of an opening gag. It sets a bad taste in the mouth for the kind of dumb humor you dread coming, but the film never really stoops to those levels that often. It also never really mines its arguably interesting premise for anything more than a reason to set Cloris Leachman on fire.
Because, you see, behind the Kevin Hart-ness of it all, The Wedding Ringer isn’t the worst excuse for a dysfunctional wedding movie. Though looking at impending nuptials from the point-of-view of a male friendship has been done before (and lightyears better, i.e. I Love You, Man), it’s rare enough to still feel fresh. But the con game of tricking Doug’s family into believing all of these strangers are actually his closest friends never feels as heightened or exciting as it should be. Though Cloris Leachman does, in fact, get set on fire in the name of the con, the rest of the group’s attempts to keep the secret feel resoundingly dull. Go big, or go home, as they say.
Fortunately, no one in the cast seems embarrassed to be here. Kevin Hart takes an unusually laid back stance to the whole thing, letting Gad share the stage and jokes alongside him. Gad’s the butt of a few lame fat jokes, but he balances being extremely likeable with being a complete idiot pretty well. The rest of the cast, mainly the central groomsmen group, is essentially a rotary of personality quirks that never really build to anything funny or meaningful. This is the guy with three testicles, this is the ex-convict, oh we have a dead spot, bring out the guy with the stutter again! Jorge Garcia pops up as a member of the group as well, and while he’s always watchable, he’s just another pick of the litter with nothing to do.
Perhaps the movie at its worse is when it doesn’t abide by its own logic. In an early scene, Doug attempts to distract his family by dropping in a few randomly offensive words into his speech to throw them off of his and Jimmy’s trail of lies. They prove to be unwavering, setting up an interesting dynamic for the movie: how does Jimmy adapt to a family who can smell his lies from a mile away? However, it’s all dropped once the third act wedding comes and the groomsmen deflect various third-degree questions with shirt-rippings, crazy dance moves and the previously mentioned third testicle.
Even Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting discovers that “Bic Mitchum” (the alias Doug made up in a hurry by looking at various paraphernalia in his medicine cabinet) has been a lie all along, and all she does is shrug it off after Doug spouts a few nonsense words. Though she’s never given much to do besides be the blushing bride, she’s smarter than that. And, for a time, it felt like the movie would be, too.
There’s a few clever angles on wedding-movie tropes that hint at greatness but repeatedly fall back on mediocrity, especially when the movie drags out lines like, “Does anyone else feel really gay right now?” That one’s said by Gretchen’s cantankerous old father as the effeminate Edmundo, the wedding planner, quizzes Doug and Gretchen on various lists of things they need to do for the party. It’s neither offensive nor funny, it’s just lazy. The movie does attempt to be clever by mentioning in passing better films like The Father of the Bride when revealing more information about Edmundo, and while it works for a moment, it ultimately crumbles into another unfunny bit about how Josh Gad can’t sing, which is hilarious because we all know he can! Frozen, am I right?!
And that’s a microcosm of the issue with The Wedding Ringer as a whole: it works, sporadically, and then doesn’t. It’s never cruel or mean-spirited or out-and-out terrible, but it’s also not that memorable, either. It could have been awfully worse, and inversely much better, but undoubtedly the most glaring issue is that it appears to be content in its mediocrity. It flirts with being more meaningful, with having a stance on male friendships in the modern world, but ultimately disappoints in just being a half-decent R-rated wedding movie.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this flight,” Garcia laments as the group of guys – all friends in the end, natch – party on a plane to some mystical vacation destination, the “guy trip” Doug’s never had. It’s a stale, half-baked attempt at reference humor that still had me laughing in spite of myself. Unfortunately, an outdated Lost reference does not a movie make, and though The Wedding Ringer is never brain-numbingly dull, nor will you be offended by its very existence, the hints and teases at something more worthwhile make it all the more forgetful.
Neither shockingly offensive nor uproariously funny, one of The Wedding Ringer's biggest faults is its apparent contentment with mediocrity.