Fools Rush In: "Wedding Ringer" wastes funny actors in unfunny premise

The Wedding Ringer (2015)
101 min., rated R.

It only took fourteen days into the first month of the new year to confirm a so-called comedy as one of the most deadening experiences of 2015 thus far. The criminal offender is "The Wedding Ringer," so woefully lazy and unfunny that it's richly embarrassing to think anyone in front of the camera actually thought this idiocy was worth committing to celluloid. An allegedly riotous R-rated comedy pairing Josh Gad and Kevin Hart must have sounded like comic gold in theory, but the result is more of a grating ordeal than an entertaining or tolerable time-filler. With that said, it's quite worthy of January-release drubbing, as if debuting writer-director Jeremy Garelick & co-writer Jay Lavender (2006's "The Break-Up") were out to insult the viewer's intelligence in serving up what they think would be the height of hilarity for the hoi polloi.

Socially awkward groom-to-be Doug Harris (Josh Gad) has run out of options in finding a best man for his wedding. Behind the back of wife-to-be Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), he turns to Best Man Inc., an underground service where entrepreneur Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart) makes a living out of standing in as a best man for loners. For $50,000, Jimmy will have to pull off the "Golden Tux" package, seven groomsmen included, and pose as Doug's best man, military priest "Bic Mitchum" (from, yes, Bic razors and Mitchum deodorant). Luckily, the "best man" pro can easily rally up a ragtag gang of groomsmen, including a former prison rapist (Colin Kane), an Asian man with three testicles (Aaron Takahashi), a stuttering hunk (Alan Ritchson), and an inappropriate airport security guard (Affion Crockett). Since it's just a business transaction, Jimmy cannot be real friends with Doug, of course, after the nuptials, but can they carry out the charade until the big day?

The asinine contrivance of a premise is a stretch, even for a comedy, and it cribs plot elements from 2005's "Hitch"a dating consultant coaching a decent schlub to help him get a dateand 2009's "I Love You, Man"a friendless man trying to find a best man for his weddingwithout much of a heart to make it forgivable. It also doesn't quite help that nearly everyone on screen is so sad and dishonest in their own lives. Most of this would be small potatoes if any of it were actually funny, of course, but let's give credit where credit is due. A male-bonding montage of Doug reenacting mountain climbing, jumping out of a plane, and running in a marathon with Jimmy and his fake groomsmen is worth a few smiles. There is one amusing, purposely cringe-worthy wedding toast by another best man (Josh Peck) that Jimmy shows Doug, and there's a potentially clever payoff with a stereotypical Hispanic wedding planner who happens to be a mincing queen. However, it's not saying much when the cleverest joke, delivered a second before the credits roll, is a wink-wink reference to TV's "Lost" with actor Jorge Garcia. 

The usually likable Josh Gad (who adorably voiced Olaf, the snowman, in 2013's "Frozen") narrowly escapes with his dignity intact, playing an amiable sad-sack, who's still at fault for going through with a marriage that doesn't ring the least bit true. The reason Doug has zero friends is addressed, but this is the kind of guy who plans on spending the rest of his life with a woman like Gretchen just because she gave him the time of day. If "The Wedding Ringer" managed to pack on the laughs, one wouldn't be able to find such an irritating lapse in common sense. As for the diminutive Kevin Hart, he can be a funny nutball of manic energy when given the right material. Here, as Jimmy Callahan, he has a few rapid-fire riffs, but given the comedian's motormouth talents, it was most likely just ad-libbed, so a couple of chuckles are all his own doing. Gad and Hart do bounce off one another pretty well, the two dancing a series of dance styles at another couple's wedding reception being one of the very few lucky nuggets of fun. A misused Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting (TV's "The Big Bang Theory") is hurt by a vapid, terribly underwritten characterization as Doug's seemingly sweet future wife Gretchen, who spends the entire film planning the wedding of her life. When she later turns into an awful, rotten, calculating human being, the treatment of Gretchen is thoroughly misogynistic. Olivia Thirlby is lovely but deserves much better, too, than such a throwaway part as Alison, Gretchen's sister and maid of honor who sees right through Jimmy but might have eyes for him.

Every chance it gets, "The Wedding Ringer" tries so hard to be outrageously wacky and side-splitting, but it's almost always tone-deaf, particularly in its bigger comic set-pieces that rely on cruel, desperate slapstick. A grandmother (poor Cloris Leachman) gets set on fire during a brunch. A man has his genitalia massaged with peanut butter, only to have a dog lick it off and stretch his penis like chewing gum until having lockjaw. That's just the short list of hopeless laughs that won't earn a peep from anyone who likes a little bit of wit or inspiration with their comedy. Finally, there is the film's climax, Doug's self-realization that would have defeated the film's premise in seconds. It's one final Hail Mary to try and be warm-hearted and sincere, as if excusing all of the lame crudeness beforehand, but it fails with a thud. As they say, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." That may be true, but rather, comedy is just subjective, and "The Wedding Ringer" is decidedly a charmless tragedy, every gag falling dead as a doornail.

Grade: D +