The premise of “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is that the two rowdy brothers have a history of ruining family gatherings and are begged by their parents to get dates (babysitters, really) for their sister’s upcoming nuptials. It’s a destination wedding, so Mike and Dave put an ad on Craigslist to find suitable companions who will trade a week in Hawaii for a little wink wink nudge nudge.
You brace yourself for a fratty meathead movie about dudes treating women as trophies, but it turns out not nearly as grossly sexist as the true story it’s partly based on was. That’s because the movie was written by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, the enlightened bros behind both “Neighbors” films, and they came up with something to balance Mike and Dave’s idiocy: the women they choose are (in the words of one character) “self-absorbed, co-dependent weirdos” just like they are.
Mike and Dave Stangle are played by Adam Devine (Comedy Central’s “Workaholics”) and Zac Efron (Disney Channel’s “High School Musical 2”), who look like brothers and have a funny way of egging each other into greater states of agitation. Flashbacks show us the wreckage from past weddings, when the boys’ zealous, drunken exploits embarrassed people or caused property damage. They’re not terrible people; they’re just dopes who get carried away sometimes, living life like an ongoing frat party. Their parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) are exasperated, with Mom asking the question that’s at the center of about half of all comedies released today: “When are the two of you going to grow up?”
Lots of women respond to their Craigslist ad wanting a free Hawaiian vacation, but the two they end up with are especially crafty and self-aware about it. They are Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), a pair of hard-partying trainwrecks who feed on one another’s narcissism. Alice, the gentler of the two, is a panicky liar who has wedding-related PTSD after being left at the altar. She connects with Dave (that’s Efron), while Tatiana — bolder, more conniving, less interested in finding love than in taking advantage of these well-monied suckers — pairs with Mike, who is approximately her equal.
Once they’re all in Hawaii, the joke becomes that the girls are as troublesome as the boys are reputed to be. Kind of, anyway. After a loudly funny first act, the middle part of the film (directed by Jake Szymanski) loses its footing, seemingly unsure where it wants to go. The girls derail the boys’ plans for normalcy and respectability by insisting on choosing the activities themselves — ATV riding instead of volleyball, for example — but there’s no motive for it other than general obstinance (for which there is also no motive).
Eventually, both pairs come to regret how they’ve screwed things up and set out to make amends. And here the movie finds its way again, fully exploiting the humor value in two sets of clueless hedonists doing their sincere best to improve themselves. Unintentionally destroying things through carelessness is funny; unintentionally destroying things through trying to make them better is even funnier.
Much of your enjoyment of the film will depend on how amused you are by the particular comedy styles of Efron, Devine, Kendrick, and Plaza. I find them all very funny here, and I continue to be amazed at Efron’s transformation into a legitimately talented comic actor. (Devine might have deployed his high-pitched scream a few too many times for my tastes.) They’re supported by the likes of Kumail Nanjiani as an accommodating masseuse and Alice Wetterlund as a bisexual cousin who aggressively hits on Tatiana. The humor is often overtly sexual, and the four central characters are buffoons, yet the film isn’t sleazy or mean. The buffoons are likable, even sympathetic, and the time spent with them passes like a cool Hawaiian breeze.
B- (1 hr., 38 min.; )