During his long career as a critic, Roger Ebert often talked about The Idiot Plot, the most tired cinematic cliche of them all. It works like this. If every character in a movie wasn’t so stupid, everything would be resolved in five minutes.
The Wedding Ringer is an excellent case in point.
Nebbishy, wealthy sports fan Josh Gad is getting married to Kaley Cuoco. He doesn’t love her. She doesn’t love him. So, why are they making this serious commitment to each other? She’s tired of dating assholes and wants to be pampered. He doesn’t have any other options.
In the first scene, a frantic Gad is trying to find a best man. Because of his unsettled childhood (his family moved around a lot) and his workaholic nature (he inherited the family business), he doesn’t have any close friends. So, he cold calls any guy from his distant past he had any kind of interaction with, no matter how brief or insignificant. All of them turn him down.
After collapsing during a meeting with a suspiciously flamboyant wedding planner (who actually is gay even without his overwrought affectations), he’s directed to visit Kevin Hart. Hart runs a service where, for a fee, he’ll pretend to be your best man and give you a glowing toast at your reception. Like Gad, he’s a loner by choice. Early on, we see him at work. After he sings the praises of his client and his new bride at their reception, the client thanks him privately in the kitchen. Hart rebuffs his offer of a real friendship. That’s not part of their arrangement.
You know exactly where this is going. Gad’s dilemma is more serious. Not only does he not have a best man, he also doesn’t have groomsmen. He needs seven altogether. (He foolishly uses the surnames of famous athletes he doesn’t know personally as placeholders. It takes Cuoco almost the entire movie to figure this out. No one else does. Despite this, she still wants to marry him.)
Absurdly, Hart isn’t immediately interested in taking his case. (When your business office is tucked away in a basement in a building you don’t own, maybe you shouldn’t be so picky.) It’s only two weeks notice. Plus, he would have a lot more responsibility than usual. Because Gad offers him a lot of dough, though, Hart relents.
What follows is a series of painfully unfunny sequences as the two men quickly develop the history of their fake friendship. Hart can’t use his real name so Gad tells him to use “Bic Mitchum”, which has to be a thinly veiled shout-out to Maxwell Hauser in Hiding Out, another bad film about mistaken identity.
Cuoco catches Gad off-guard one day when she insists that Hart (who she thinks is a military chaplain) have brunch with her family. On 18 hours notice, Hart & Gad work out the basic details of their fictional history. But inevitably, during the family get-together, disaster strikes. A question they didn’t anticipate being asked trips them up. Hart has a strange solution for such moments: random words. That’s right. While speaking normally, he’ll suddenly throw in strange phrases like “muffin juice” like a more dimwitted version of Kevin Nealon’s Subliminal Man in the doomed hope that it’ll right the ship. However, when Gad tries it, it’s too noticeable. So, in a panic, Hart dumps some very hot food in his lap and the next thing you know, Cloris Leachmann is on fire.
At the hospital when Cuoco’s homophobic father challenges Gad and his mysterious groomsmen (a diverse group of misfits auditioned and assembled later by Hart who gives them fake character studies to memorize) to a football game with his own circle of retired goons, well, let’s just say the final result is what feminists mean when they talk about toxic masculinity.
All the while, an overwhelmed Gad is trying in vain to romance a disinterested Cuomo who makes up some bullshit excuse about delaying sex before they’re married. When Hart asks him for info for his phony toast, Gad isn’t particularly helpful. The way he met his indifferent bride-to-be is more of a red flag than a lovely memory.
Since his successful proposal, in fact, Gad’s been in perpetual panic mode. If only he would sit down with Cuoco and tell her the truth, we could all be spared this godawful nonsense.
But nope, he’s too terrified and stupid to speak up even though she too is very clearly having profound doubts about the whole thing. She ain’t much brighter, quite frankly.
This is the second Kevin Hart film from 2015 that firmly believes prison rape jokes are funny. (Get Hard had far too many of them.) One of the hired groomsmen is a formerly incarcerated psychopath who can’t keep his hands to himself & has an ugly record of assaulting his fellow prisoners.
In one of the worst sequences, Hart has Gad kidnapped in order to force him to have a bachelor party. At one point, he’s handcuffed and blindfolded as a dog licks peanut butter off his penis. (He thinks it’s really the hot woman who nearly blew him in a bouncy castle.) Why is this assault funny, exactly? When the dog won’t stop, the aforementioned psychopath shoots off his gun literally scaring the pooch to death. This causes a disgusting emergency that you can pretty much figure out for yourself.
This is also the second Kevin Hart film from 2015 that has him playing a saviour to a rich, hapless white guy. In Get Hard, Will Farrell is wrongly convicted of embezzling from his own company. To prepare him for prison, Hart, who runs a car wash, you guessed it, at the bottom of a building he doesn’t own, offers to teach him how to prepare for life on the inside despite not having a record himself.
At least Get Hard, another terrible misfire, had a few funny moments. How did this get a theatrical release? There are no genuine laughs at all. Zero. There is however this pervasive tone of cruelty throughout The Wedding Ringer that makes you wonder if the screenwriters have any friends themselves. The story is stupid. The characters are stupid. And I was as emotionally uninvested in the material as Kaley Cuoco is in her own relationship.
It’s hard to imagine Kevin Hart’s character drumming up much business in the real world. He’s a transparent phony. (Even Cuoco’s sister, who takes a liking to him, senses something amiss.) Consider the scene where he delivers the eulogy to a former client. (If you die within seven years of your wedding, he’ll speak at your funeral.) Claiming to be an Ethiopian Jew who was rescued from bullies by his dead white saviour, there’s not a dry eye in the house. (Even Gad starts dabbing.) When we find out later that the guy was really an asshole, one wonders why everyone was so upset about his death in the first place. Shouldn’t Hart’s kind words have been a tip off?
The only good thing Hart does for Gad happens by accident. When the wedding planner dumps the original priest (he’s allegedly a pedophile) and replaces him unwittingly with Hart’s former high school principal, the ceremony ends up being presided over by someone who doesn’t have the authority to conduct weddings at all.
Other than that, Gad overpaid.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 17, 2015