Movie Review: “The Wedding Ringer”

Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Alan Ritchson, Olivia Thirlby
Jeremy Garelick

The premise for “The Wedding Ringer” has a blind spot the size of Texas. If someone were to actually do what Kevin Hart’s character does here, it would not be long before they ran into one of their former clients’ spouses, or a girl they hooked up with after the reception, or a family member of the wedding party (you get the idea), while pretending to be the new character. Not to mention, the movie wrings laughs out of a scenario where men spin a hideous web of lies to their wives-to-be as a means of impressing them, which is the worst possible way to start a marriage. It’s a house of cards, with a near-zero level of plausibility, and yet, “The Wedding Ringer” works in spite of all of these things. Hart and Josh Gad have great chemistry, the script is surprisingly smart for such a broad comedy (they don’t stoop to making the supporting characters dunces in order for the plot to work), and there is an underdog mentality to it that is intoxicating.

Doug Harris (Gad) has a problem. He’s about to get married to out-of-his-league Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), but he doesn’t have any friends, and therefore no best man or groomsmen. The wedding planner sniffs this out (Gretchen, conveniently, is still in the dark about this), and suggests that Doug meet Jimmy Callahan (Hart), who runs a business providing services for men who need a best man. Doug, however, doesn’t just need a best man: he needs a best man and a whopping seven groomsmen, something Jimmy has joked about but never executed before. The groomsmen Jimmy recruits are less than ideal, but Doug goes along with it given the circumstances. As Doug and Jimmy get to know each other – Jimmy has a strict ‘This is a business arrangement, and we are not friends’ policy – and as Gretchen’s family gets to know Jimmy, lines get blurred.

The path of the plot is apparent – to make matters worse, some of the trailers show scenes from the final five minutes of the movie, ugh – but it’s still fun to see how the characters get there. Gretchen has a moment so funny and so completely out of character with a comedy that it begs to be spoiled (but of course, we won’t), and any critic who gives away the film’s last line should be caned. This movie is painfully self-aware of its shortcomings, but it works like a dog to make up for them in other ways, like the unthinkable gauntlet the men run during Doug’s bachelor party. It’s one of the most stupidly funny things you’ll see all year.

Anyone can see the third act coming down Broadway. There is the disapproving parent trying to acceptably vent his frustration that his daughter is marrying below her level, the late reveal about Gretchen’s past, the suspicious sibling, the groomsmen panicking once their fake backgrounds are questioned…from the very beginning, everyone in the theater knows that these things are going to happen. Fortunately, the movie has accumulated so much goodwill by then that it doesn’t really matter how predictable some of it turns out to be. This is how the story should end; to do otherwise would be more ridiculous than what actually happens in the movie, which is pretty damn ridiculous.

In the midst of all of the chaos is Hart delivering his finest performance to date. Jimmy Callahan is by no means deep (quite the opposite, in fact), but he has more depth than anything Hart has ever done, and Hart runs with it. Gad has the luxury of letting Hart carry the film, which makes the moments where Gad steps up all the sweeter (the highlight being their dance routines at someone else’s wedding). Everyone else is basically a plug-and-play character, though Olivia Thirlby makes the most of her role as Gretchen’s sister Alison, and grown-ups will love the flag football game between Doug’s friends and Gretchen’s father’s football buddies.

“The Wedding Ringer” is a two-and-a-half-star plot crossed with three-and-a-half-star dialogue and a four-star eagerness to please. It’s not great by any means, but it is very entertaining, and as January releases go, it’s a borderline gift to get a movie this enjoyable.