The Wedding Ringer is writer/director Jeremy Garelick's first feature film, and it feels like it in a way that isn't always, or even usually, true of first time directors. Every technical aspect of this film comes across as neglected, a little bedraggled. The framing is haphazard, the editing is hurried and unkempt - the film just looks bad. It looks cheap.
But maybe it's wrong to harp on the technical woes of The Wedding Ringer when its problems start on the page. This could be a beautifully filmed and impeccably edited movie and it would still be hatefully unfunny. But the worst part of The Wedding Ringer is that there's some charm here, beneath the ugliness and shoddy filmmaking. Kevin Hart and Josh Gad both turn in likable performances, and they share a friendly, funny chemistry that I'd like to see again, elsewhere, in a better film. Separately and together, these guys deserve a better movie. So, for that matter, do Olivia Thirlby, who manages to make a little something out of a nothing part, and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and Cloris Leachman, who battle it out for the most thankless role of the movie/year.
But this is the movie they've got. Gad plays Doug Harris, a schleppy friendless businessman who can't seem to wrap his mind around the fact that a beautiful woman (Cuoco-Sweeting as Gretchen) wants to marry him. He's invented a posse of friends so she won't suspect how unpopular he is, but when it comes time to settle his groom's party, he's panicking. Fortunately, Kevin Hart's Jimmy provides a service for men just such as Doug, and he wrangles an indiscriminate crew of weirdos (including Jorge Garcia and Alan Ritchson) to act as Doug's groomsmen. Hart will play the part of the best man, whom Doug named Bic Mitchum in a toiletry-inspired moment of hysteria. Jimmy has very firm rules that he's only a pal for pay, but of course as the guys spend enough time together to make it convincing and embark on the creepiest bachelor party ever filmed, they start to hit it off in earnest.
It's a story that's been told before (most recently in Hitch and I Love You, Man, two moderately pleasant films that are infinitely superior to this one), and with Gad and Hart's natural amiability, that would have been okay. There's a scene where the two men attend another wedding so Jimmy can teach Doug to dance, but it turns out that Doug took twelve years of dance as a kid, and he's great. (Of course, Gad's performed on Broadway, so it's no surprise.) Doug and Jimmy kill it on the dance floor together in an adequately edited montage, and it's the sort of unobjectionable cheerfulness that would have earned this movie a pass - if the rest of the film had lived up to it.
Unfortunately, the bulk of The Wedding Ringer's humor relies on tired "no homo" jokes and an ever-present disdain for women. Gretchen is a monster of a bride. She forces Doug to attend salad dressing tastings (no way is that a thing, is it?) and insists that their first dance be to the song she and her ex shared on a night of blissful lovemaking. Gretchen almost seems to hate Doug, and he doesn't particularly like her either, but she wants kids and he wants a hot wife and that is the entire foundation of their engagement. Spoilers: when Doug meets an agreeable sex worker at his bachelor party, a blind dog would know where this is going. Gretchen's a prude and a bitch and when Doug leaves her at the alter to party on their honeymoon with a prostitute named Nadia (Nicky Whelan), we've reached our happy ending.
And it's not just that Gretchen is portrayed as a bad person: The Wedding Ringer is eager to perpetuate that stupid old myth that weddings turn all women into beasts. Jimmy tells Doug, "Just repeat to yourself 'weddings are for women.' If they were for men, they'd have flatscreen TVs." This is an exhausting sentence in a couple of different ways.
Garelick makes a lot of indecipherable decisions in The Wedding Ringer, but perhaps the strangest is how the film earns its R rating. This is a movie that can only be helped by nudity, frankly, but instead the The Wedding Ringer surrenders that sweet PG-13 money in order to say the word "fuck" a good three or four hundred times. That's it. No nudity, very little sex, a surprising amount of restraint when it comes to toilet humor and violence, but f-bombs falling all over the place.
Here's the last, best thing you need to know about The Wedding Ringer. The film ends with Jorge Garcia breaking the fourth wall and making a LOST joke. Maybe that's the only thing you need to know.