Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jeremy Garelick

Stars: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Affion Crockett, Jorge Garcia, Dan Gill, Corey Holcomb, Ken Howard, Mimi Rogers, Colin Kane, Cloris Leachman, Jenifer Lewis, Alan Ritchson, Aaron Takahashi, Olivia Thirlby, Ignacio Serricchio, Nicky Whelan, Josh Peck, Neal Israel.

The term a Kevin Hart comedy is something of an oxymoron, as Hart is an unfunny comic actor with a grating screen presence. His previous film was Ride Along, an unfunny, unpleasant and dull variation on the odd couple buddy cop formula that ranked as one of the worst films of last year. Even though it deals with a popular cinematic device – the dysfunctional wedding that goes awry – The Wedding Ringer has already plumbed the depths of screen comedy as far as this year is concerned.

In recent years we’ve had plenty of wedding themed romantic comedies featuring big weddings, wedding singers, wedding planners, wedding crashers, bridesmaids and even some homegrown best men. And now we get the underwhelming wedding ringer. Jimmy Callaghan (played by motor mouthed comic Kevin Hart) who, for a price, plays the best man for socially awkward and lonely men on their wedding day. He will organise everything including the bachelor party, say nice things about the groom for the bride’s family, and even supply a few groomsmen for the occasion. And when we first meet Callaghan, business seems to be booming. There must be a lot of lonely, friendless fiances out there!

His latest client is Doug Harris (Josh Gad), a highly strung workaholic who is due to marry the rich Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweetney, aka Penny from hit tv sitcom The Big Bang Theory, etc), the first beautiful woman who talked to him. But having no real friends in his life, Doug has lied to his fiancee and concocted a few imaginary friends, including his best man Bic Mitchum (whose name is concocted from a couple of popular male grooming aids). Now with the wedding just a couple of weeks away Doug needs help in making these fictitious friends a reality. That’s where Callaghan and his company Best Man Inc comes in. Callaghan plays the role of Mitchum, and ropes in a few friends to play Doug’s other so-called best friends. Having to provide seven groomsmen though is a large task, which he calls a “Golden Tux”.

Callaghan manages to assemble a posse of racially diverse groomsmen that look like “the cast of The Goonies all grew up and became rapists”. Callaghan also has strict rules about not becoming too friendly with his clients, and even warns them that after the wedding ceremony he will not be a part of their life. He is a pretty shallow person, who is everybody’s best friend for a price, but nobody’s friend when it counts. But Doug slowly begins to bond with Callaghan and these strangers, and for possibly the first time in his life he feels alive and vital.

The Wedding Ringer though also aims for some earnest emotional content as it explores themes of love, romance, honesty, family, friendship, loneliness, and even explores the growing bromance between Gad’s lonely Doug and the extroverted but glib Jimmy.

There are a couple of genuinely laugh out loud moments here, but for the most part the film falls flat. The central conceit has some potential, but is let down by a flat and flawed and mediocre script that quickly runs out of inspiration, and ultimately resorts to some cartoonish sequences including a brief car chase and a gratuitously staged football grudge match against some old men in the mud that recalls The Longest Yard. You know you’re in trouble when one of the funniest moments involves a grandmother being set alight at the dinner table.

Some of the humour here is also misogynistic and slightly mean spirited. And there is some brief homophobic humour at the expense of Edmundo (Argentinian actor Ignacio Serricchio), the effeminate wedding planner. This alleged comedy hits a new low with a tasteless sequence involving some peanut butter, a dog and Josh Gad’s genitals.

The Wedding Ringer has been written by Jeremy Garelick, who has worked with Todd Phillips writing a number of raunchy, adult comedies including The Break Up and contributing uncredited rewrites on The Hangover. He makes his feature film directorial debut here, but the film misfires and is uneven. There is lots of crass humour and plenty of clever pop cultural references, but genuine laughs are far and few between.

The normally over the top Hart manages to rein in his manic energy and familiar shtick for much of the film, but he still grates, and his machine gun like delivery means that some of his dialogue is lost. Gad has a genial style about him and he plays the sad sack loner well, and here he allows himself to become the butt of a few fat person jokes. However, the odd couple pairing does generate some chemistry.

Ken Howard plays Gretchen’s cantankerous father who takes an instant dislike to Doug. And poor Cloris Leachman fares badly here. Forty years ago she won an Oscar for her work in The Last Picture Show, and now she is reduced to playing a virtually wordless role as Gretchen’s doddery old grandmother. She spends most of the time looking shell shocked, as well she might given the thankless nature of her role.

Not even Adam Sandler would touch this dull, dreary, predictable and potentially offensive misfire with a six foot pole.


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