Sunday, July 10, 2016

Equals Attract: Plaza and Kendrick run off with sporadically funny “Mike and Dave”


Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)
98 min., rated R.

Raunchy R-rated comedy “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is both better than most will be expecting and not nearly the outrageous laugh riot it probably should be. Purely by the willingness of the cast, some of the comedic bits hit, and there are rough patches as well. Based on a true story—sort of—the film likely plays fast and loose with the facts but swings for the fences to be a new generation’s “Wedding Crashers" (which gets name-checked) mixed with a little “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” from the Hawaiian-set shenanigans. First-time feature director Jake Szymanski (HBO tennis mockumentary “7 Days in Hell”) and screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (2016’s “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”) don’t really test the mainstream limits of an R-rating and, like Mike and Dave, the film hasn’t too many brain cells in its pretty little head, but it is made sporadically funny by the appealing cast’s comedy chops. Tempered expectations are surpassed, but still don’t expect to convulse with laughter.

Tequila-selling business partners and brothers Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron) have always been the life of the party, but they have always ended up chasing girls and ruining family gatherings. Their parents (Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy) sit them down for an intervention and propose an ultimatum: Mike and Dave need to find respectable wedding dates to keep them in check for their baby sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawaii. When recently unemployed train wrecks Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) see the brothers making an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show to publicize their viral ad on Craigslist, the girls make it their mission to get a free vacation to Hawaii. The only catch is that they will have to clean up and play the parts of “nice girls,” a charade that cannot continue that long before Tatiana and Alice will show their trashy true colors. Or maybe Mike and Dave found their matches?

The irony-dipped premise behind “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” probably should have been built with more tension and momentum than it actually does, but the viewer will decide to either go with it or not. Full of spontaneity, the cast has a wild time, and one can sense that a lot of ad-libbing was probably funnier on set than the writing. Comic highlights include Tatiana pretending to be a goody-two-shoes schoolteacher, pulling out her glasses and No. 2 pencil, and Alice explaining the alleged hedge fund she manages. Jeanie’s orgasmic session with her overly accommodating masseuse (a physically limber Kumail Nanjiani), though, strains so much that it falls flat, but a “Jurassic Park” ATV tour is amusing. Then, aside from the odd one-liner to a musical performance of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” before the credits roll, the last third annoyingly tames itself down with apologies and loses energy too soon, shining a bright light on the areas in the script that could have used more punching up. At the expense of Mike and Dave’s IQs, one of those unknowingly audible backstage arguments is contrived to force the characters to finally reveal their big hearts, slightly slamming on the brakes to what clearly just wants to be a diverting, snappy romp. For Alice and Dave, who might be the sweetest of the four, this softer side seems to come more naturally to them both since she’s still wounded from being left at the altar and he wants to break away from his codependent brother to draw professionally. It is a plus that none of the morally dubious doofuses here become changed people overnight, but no one not resembling a human being has any business exposing sincere, tender feelings in a broad comedy that should be more interested in getting laughs.

Adam Devine and Zac Efron are actually convincing as brothers and hedonistic boobs, so in-sync with one another’s charisma and zany exuberance. Resembling Jack Black a lot here, Devine still has his own manic, rubbery-faced presence, and Efron tries keeping up but isn’t afforded as many laughs here as the buff straight man of the two. By the skin of its teeth, the film avoids becoming chauvinistic itself by having Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick swoop in and go wild as equal-opportunity offenders who can be just as horny, drunk and crazy as their male screen partners (“Women can do shit now!” one of them exclaims). Tatiana and Alice refuse to be taken advantage of, even though they themselves are playing Mike and Dave. While Efron and Devine are both game to win the title for “Most Obnoxious” and really seem to be trying to be funny, the hilariously off-kilter Plaza and the ever-lovely Kendrick are more likably naughty messes. There aren’t many things the confidently potty-mouthed Plaza won’t do—she did star alongside Efron in January’s lazy, rotten-to-the-core “Dirty Grandpa,” and we will forgive her for that lapse in judgment—and it’s refreshing to see Kendrick playing more against-type. These two are the film's secret sauce and their gleefully uninhibited turns are the most fun to watch. 

Rude, crude and puerile comedy can be done when it’s cleverly scripted and performed with comically brazen gusto. “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is not as savage or tight or consistent enough to give much more thought to after the summer, but in its defense, it has gusto in spades. Also stealing scenes in supporting roles, the tiny-voiced Sugar Lyn Beard (2012’s “For a Good Time, Call…”) remains a lovably perky sweetheart throughout as Mike and Dave’s sister Jeanie; Sam Richardson is likable with a sneaky backbone as Jeanie’s fiancée Eric; and Alice Wetterlund (HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) goes for it as bisexual cousin Terry who keeps making a pass at Tatiana. There are several laugh-out-loud funny moments, many of them courtesy of the free-wheeling Plaza and Kendrick, that the unworkable gags and disingenuous attempts to bring heart can’t completely bring it all down. Mike and Dave just needed to get out of the way and let their hell-raising wedding dates do their thing.

Grade: C +

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