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Stars of 'Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates' get sacrificed at the comedy altar

Stars of 'Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates' get sacrificed at the comedy altar
Aubrey Plaza, from left, Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine and Zac Efron star in the comedy "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates." (Gemma LaMana / 20th Century Fox)

Although the premise is spelled out right there in the title, "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" makes very little sense. That's despite it being based (shockingly) on a book. Well, a "book," written by brothers Mike and Dave Stangle as an obligatory cash-in on their viral Craigslist ad.

But even though the opening credits claim that the film is "inspired by the life stories of Mike and Dave Stangle" and also "based on a true story. Sort of," the movie version somehow has absolutely no connection to reality.

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That's OK — sex comedies shouldn't necessarily resemble real life. But the film doesn't even convincingly craft its own internal reality in this story about a pair of rowdy brothers who end up with an even rowdier pair of dates to their sister’s wedding. There are no rules or character motivations, words come out of Zac Efron's mouth when it isn't moving, and Anna Kendrick’s wig changes color seemingly at random.

The script by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, who adapted the book, is a disappointing nosedive after their screenplay for "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising." "Mike and Dave" is directed by Jake Szymanski, who has a host of Funny or Die shorts and the HBO tennis comedy "7 Days in Hell" under his belt, but his feature debut doesn't prove that he can handle multiple storylines that are intended to stretch beyond a few minutes.

This movie will leave you with many more questions than answers. Such as: If Mike and Dave ruin every family party, why would their family think asking them to bring dates is going to remedy the situation? That's literally doubling the trouble. Furthermore, why do drunken train wrecks Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Kendrick) want to be their dates? Sure, it's a free vacation to Hawaii, but they have to go to great lengths to convince the guys that they're "nice girls," when they're actually mentally unstable drug addicts. And after all that, why do they quickly and cavalierly confess their lies halfway through the movie, fizzling out all the tension?

Plaza and Kendrick pull the short straws in the character department, and their performances don't help. The bizarre "urban" accent Plaza puts on as Tatiana is confounding and borders on offensive. Someone needs to stage an intervention with her representation. This is her second strike after the abomination that is "Dirty Grandpa." (Efron also has blood on his hands for that one.)

Kendrick indulges her worst tendencies of quirky, grating affectations. Here's an Oscar nominee in a movie where she covers her breasts with a horse's mane during a drug trip, for crying out loud. But trying to puzzle out the complicated sexual and gender politics here would be an exercise in futility.

Efron usually elevates everything with his sweet stupidity, but he gets only a few moments to shine as Dave. Adam Devine is vein-poppingly intense and ridiculous as Mike, and squeezes in a laugh or two when he's allowed to be his weirdest. There are some comic high points: Alice Wetterlund's butch bisexual cousin Terry is second only to Sam Richardson, as the groom, who knows no equal when it comes to playing endearingly nerdy fussbudgets. But on the wildly uneven rollercoaster that is "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates," the lows far outweigh the highs.

Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

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'Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates'

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

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: In general release

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