MOVIES
Review

Kevin Hart-Josh Gad chemistry highlights 'The Wedding Ringer'

Betsy Sharkey
Los Angeles Times Film Critic
Kevin Hart and Josh Gad have chemistry in the otherwise stale 'The Wedding Ringer'

It's not quite a match made in heaven, but there is considerable comic chemistry between the high-octane Kevin Hart and the energy-conserving Josh Gad. A good thing since theirs is the only relationship worth watching in "The Wedding Ringer."

There sure isn't much going on between Doug (Gad) and his intended, Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). Doug readily admits she's out of his league. She seems to agree, as does Ed (Ken Howard), her domineering dad. End of story.

Making matters worse, Doug is a prickly blend of loser and loner and the bride has a bevy of maids in need of groomsmen. His pockets, however, are lined. Enter Jimmy Callahan/Bic (Hart), the entrepreneurial wedding solver and his booming business Best Man, Inc.

In very short order, Jimmy promises Doug the wedding of his dreams. It does, however, require pulling off a complicated maneuver dubbed "the golden tux." Eight faux groomsmen, each with their own identity and back story, head into Jimmy's boot camp for training. Meanwhile the best man must become "Bic," the best friend Doug's been telling Gretchen about, an Army priest stationed in the Middle East who's flying back for the wedding.

It's a crazy conceit, and Hart tackles it with his signature style, a kind of comic scatting delivered at lightning speed. Watching him sweet-talk his way out of one dilemma after another offers a little redemption. But too often the "Wedding Ringer" looks like a hodgepodge of "Hitch," "Wedding Crashers" and "Bridesmaids" — something borrowed, something blue and all of it half-baked.

Director Jeremy Garelick and co-writer Jay Lavender, the duo who penned the more engaging Vince Vaughn-Jennifer Aniston comedy "The Break-Up" a few years ago, do have good instincts when it comes to playing the relationship card. It makes for some good moments between Doug and Jimmy as their business relationship becomes increasingly personal.

But too often the filmmakers go for cheap shots. Cuoco-Sweeting, who plays dimwitted but street smart adorable in the long-running CBS hit "The Big Bang Theory," is really unlikable in "Wedding." The bride is clearly supposed to be the villain. But borderline boring is a waste of her time and ours.

It's nice, however, to see Hart given a character with a little more heart. And a relief to see his frenzy dialed down. Gad's silly, self-deprecating slowness, a comic style that helped make "Frozen's" Olaf such a snowy superstar, encourages Hart to take a breath too. His comedy is better for it.

Before the bromance begins in earnest, the filmmakers want us to see what Jimmy does best. His wedding toast at one event after another is flawless — tear-jerking, personal, heartfelt. It basically serves to give the comic a range of disguises to toy with.

The crew of guys Jimmy rounds up to play Doug's friends all have dual names and identities. The lineup includes Reggie/Drysdale (Affion Crockett), Lurch/Garvey (Jorge Garcia), Bronstein/Dickerson (Dan Gill), Otis/Alzado (Corey Holcomb), Fitzgibbons/Plunkett (Colin Kane), Kip/Carew (Alan Ritchson), Endo/Rambis (Aaron Takahashi), Edmundo/Dirty Eddie Sanchez (Ignacio Serricchio). It doesn't take long before the lines between them begin to blur.

The more Doug hangs with the guys, the more he likes them. And the less he likes Gretchen's dad. The tension comes to a head during a muddy and brutal touch football game between Doug's pretend posse and Ed's old cronies. Its only reason for being is one fun cameo, and that is not reason enough.

The film lives in two worlds — the buttoned up one of the proper Gretchen and the fun house ride of Jimmy's. He works out of a basement room at the back of a carnival, the locale providing a surreal and slightly wacky backdrop of batting cages and bumper cars. To keep up with the ongoing antics requires director of photography Bradford Lipson to be constantly on the move.

Meanwhile the soundtrack has to work overtime to fill up the dead spaces when a scene goes stale. Christopher Lennertz, who oversaw music, created a kitschy mix of old standards like "It's Only a Paper Moon," wedding staples like "Titanic's" "My Heart Will Go On" and wild dance jams like Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba." It's a keeper; little else about "The Wedding Ringer" is.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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'The Wedding Ringer'

MPAA rating: R for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: In general release

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