The Wedding Ringer
Kevin Hart may be the next great raunchy comedian movie star - a high-energy performer capable of juggling drama and comedy while following in the footsteps of Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, and others. If that's the case, The Wedding Ringer isn't the best showcase for Hart's capabilities - it's an uninspired, middle-of-the-road comedy that never challenges expectations - but it is an opportunity for him to step out of ensemble territory and play the undisputed lead. In a way, it's a reversal of roles from the 2014 film, Ride Along, in which he played the subordinate in a buddy situation with Ice Cube. Here, he's the top dog and Josh Gad is the follower.
The premise is mercifully uncomplicated: Hart plays Jimmy Callahan, a.k.a., "The Wedding Ringer." For a fee, he'll play the role of the best man for any groom. The usual package includes spending the entire day with the wedding party, giving the Best Man's toast, etc. For additional money, he can participate in activities beyond the ceremony, including arranging the Bachelor's Party. Doug Harris (Josh Gad) presents a challenge for Jimmy: not only does he want the works, but he needs seven groomsmen. This is the holy grail of the business - the so-called "Golden Tuxedo." Then a couple of things happen along Jimmy's road to earning $50K: he comes to genuinely like Doug and Doug begins to wonder whether his intended, Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), is "the one."
As assembled by first-time director Jeremy Garelick, The Wedding Ringer gets off to a rocky start. The first half-hour is dramatically inert and comedically anemic. Eventually, however, it hits its stride. Hart's charisma begins to shine through the miasma of a less-than-stellar screenplay. The humor, starting with a flare-up featuring Cloris Leachman, starts to provoke the kinds of belly laughs we expect from this sort of movie. The "bromance" between Jimmy and Doug clicks. The Wedding Ringer never develops into a great movie but it achieves a level of entertainment few would suspect based on its inauspicious beginning.
As might be expected from an R-rated comedy made in 2015, the humor is frequently profane and there's the seemingly obligatory scene of a man's (prosthetic) genitalia being exposed to something unpleasant. However, although the comedy occasionally creeps close to the level of The Hangover, it usually backs away, stabilizing more in National Lampoon's Vacation's range. The Cloris Leachman incident is an example, as is a football game pitting a group of old-school brutes against Doug's fake best friends. There's some funny material and not all is unapologetically rude.
It has been remarked that one differentiator of Judd Apatow's comedies from those of his peers is the "heart" he brings to his projects. Some of that "heart" can be found here. Garelick, Hart, and Gad invest the necessary effort to establish the burgeoning friendship between Jimmy and Doug as more than a throw-away plot element, and it goes a long way toward making The Wedding Ringer watchable. The scene in which Jimmy realizes he's not all that different from "loser" Doug is surprisingly poignant. Like most films dumped into theaters in January, The Wedding Ringer is imperfect but its imperfections are tolerable because they're accompanied by a dollop of drama, a measure of laughter, and an oversized helping of Kevin Hart.
© 2015 James Berardinelli