The lesson all filmmakers must eventually learn is this: your movie can work even if it has a stupid premise — but you have to try a lot harder. Audiences will swallow just about any kind of plot-related nonsense, especially in a comedy. But only if you make us laugh.
“The Wedding Ringer” was made by people who have not grasped this. First-time director Jeremy Garelick and his co-writer, Jay Lavender (the pair also wrote “The Break-Up”), start with an eye-roller of a premise — a guy who sells his services as best man to grooms who don’t have any real friends — and then demonstrate that they have no idea what to do with it. If you or I were in this situation, we would see that our tenuous concept isn’t worth pursuing, and we would not make the movie. That’s why you and I aren’t big-time Hollywood filmmakers.
Kevin Hart gets top billing as Jimmy Callahan, a smooth talker who is regularly paid thousands of dollars to spend the weekend pretending to be a close friend of a soon-to-be-married man. Business is booming, too. Evidently there are a lot of grooms who have neither friends, nor qualms about lying (expensively) to their brides. There must also be a commensurate number of gullible brides who don’t find it at all strange that their husband’s best man is someone they’ve never met or heard of before.
Anyway, Jimmy’s latest desperate client, Doug Harris (Josh Gad), is a chubby dork with no friends, who’s seen in the film’s first moments pathetically calling old college acquaintances in search of a best man before sitting on his glass desk and shattering it. (FATTY FALL DOWN!) Being both panicky and, I guess, an idiot, Doug has told his fiancee, Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), that his best man is a military priest named Bic Mitchum, and that he will be attended by seven groomsmen, all named after famous athletes.
Jimmy, always up for a challenge, recruits a motley bunch of out-of-work actors to be the groomsmen (“They look like the entire cast of ‘Goonies’ grew up and became rapists,” says Doug) and trains them in their roles. For maximum hack humor value, the guys are all odd in some way: the gorgeous male model (Alan Ritchson) has a stutter; the dirtbag (Colin Kane) excelled as a sex offender in prison; the really fat guy (Jorge Garcia) is really fat, was also Hurley on “Lost.”
What follows is a lot of disappointing frantic idiocy. Stuck with nothing to do till the day of the wedding, the movie kills time with an outlandish bachelor party that’s chaotic but not particularly funny, followed by a muddy game of football against Gretchen’s homophobic father (Ken Howard) and his friends, which is likewise time-consuming yet devoid of laughs. Playing a grandmother, Cloris Leachman shows up to do the usual Cloris Leachman thing (say a few dirty words, get set on fire), while Olivia Thirlby is squandered as Gretchen’s skeptical sister, Mimi Rogers plays their mother, and Jenifer Lewis is Jimmy’s no-nonsense assistant (possibly his mother?), who reminds him that he doesn’t really have any friends, either.
Hart and Gad are both game performers, and each earns a few chuckles through sheer enthusiasm and commitment. A handful of the lies Jimmy and Doug are forced to tell are amusing, but most fall flat, the kind of lazy, sophomoric gags that would make you change the channel if you were watching a sitcom. The film never fully embraces its potential as a bawdy frat-house comedy, seemingly content to stick with safe, easy jokes and a formulaic plot that wastes the talents of its stars. There’s no shame in admitting that your idea just isn’t going to work. But you do have to realize it before you shoot, edit, and release the film.
D+ (1 hr., 41 min.; )