★ ★ ★
Rejoice, fans of raunchy comedy: Popular standup comic Kevin Hart keeps the laughs down and dirty in The Wedding Ringer, a rowdy throwback to the freewheeling, politically incorrect buddy comedies of the 1980s. Unabashedly vulgar, yet infused with a dash of post-Apatow sentimentality, this tale of a friendless man determined to impress his fiancée succeeds—much like a memorable wedding—thanks to a strong ensemble with a perfectly balanced couple at the center (even if, in this case, that pair isn’t the bride and groom).
Doug Harris (Josh Gad) is a nice guy with a high-powered job and a gorgeous fiancée. There’s just one problem: With only a week to go before his big wedding to his dream girl Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), he has yet to find his best man (or, for that matter, a single groomsman to balance out his future wife’s abundant bridal party). Fortunately for Doug, his flamboyant wedding planner Edmundo (Ignacio Serricchio) has just the solution. His name is Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart) and he’s the owner of Best Man Inc., which provides a rather unique service for men who need to juice up their weddings: For a fee, Jimmy will be your best man—and not just any best man, but one whom your guests will be talking about for years to come. When Doug asks him to not only be his best man but assemble a convincing collection of groomsmen in a single week, Jimmy rises to the challenge and assumes the persona of a long-lost pal, an army cleric named Bic Mitchum. And though it’s all business at first, Jimmy eventually starts to realize that having a friend is more valuable than having a paying client.
A Bachelor Party for the millennial set, this is a high-concept comedy that sets the bar for laughs at the tripping level. Blazing grandmothers, closed-head injuries, and severe phallus trauma are all fair game for jokes here, and the cast toss themselves at the material with the vigor and zeal of Olympian-level stooges. Peppering their scattershot screenplay with a seemingly endless barrage of sight gags and salty quips, scribes Jeremy Garelick (who also directs) and Jay Lavender skirt convention just enough to freshen up the predictable story beats that propel the plot (you didn’t really think “Bic” was going to pull off the job without a little bit of soul-searching, did you?). This is a populist comedy, plain and simple. Garelick and Lavender just want to make us laugh, and the actors make it easy to oblige as brash Bic assembles a motley crew of groomsmen in a bid to liven up Doug’s wedding.
As capable of a leading man as Hart is (and as effectively as he’s balanced against Gad’s socially inept Doug), there’s still room for Dan Gill, Jorge Garcia, Affion Crockett, Corey Holcomb, Alan Ritchson, and Aaron Takahashi to provide amble comic support, each of them getting in the occasional beat or two of their own as the story goes through its increasingly outrageous motions. Comedy legend Cloris Leachman’s biggest moment is getting torched at the dinner table in a scene that nearly crosses the line from humor to horror, while contemporary comics Jeffrey Ross and Whitney Cummings both turn in brief cameos that keep the oddball momentum as high as Edmundo with his coconut bong. Yes, The Wedding Ringer probably could have been shortened by 15 minutes and lost none of its bawdy charm (although at 101 minutes, it mercifully avoids that other Apatow trend of crossing the two-hour mark), but then again, what’s the last time you went to a wedding that wasn’t just a little overindulgent?