‘The Wedding Ringer’: Rings false, but still funny

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The Kevin Hart top-lined comedy, “The Wedding Ringer,” poses  a question about marital protocol. What do you do if you’re a guy with a rapidly approaching wedding date and you have no friends or family members to serve as your best man and groomsmen?

This is the situation faced by Doug Harris (Josh Gad). The pathetic co-protagonist is a very successful international tax attorney. Doug’s father died, leaving him as the head of the thriving law firm. However, Doug doesn’t have a social life. Although he is a kindhearted soul, women regard him as a fat, socially maladroit schlub.

Doug is shocked, when Gretchen Palmer (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), a conventionally attractive blonde, accepts his proposal of marriage. He just can’t understand what a woman like her sees in him. Gretchen hails from a wealthy family, so presumably she isn’t a gold digger.

There is an immediate problem. How can he explain to his fiancée that he has no one to serve as his best man or groomsmen without looking like a social pariah?  In an opening scene, we witness Doug calling a litany of casual acquaintances, imploring them to serve as his best man? No luck-every one of them turns him down flat, insisting that they’re not even friends with Doug.

Edmundo (Ignacio Serrichio), is a fey wedding planner, hired by Gretchen’s parents (Ken Berry, Mimi Rogers). Edmundo pulls Doug aside and reveals that he has intuited what is really going on. Edmundo offers a simple, albeit costly, solution. Doug should avail himself of the services of Jimmy Callahan (Hart).

So…who’s this Jimmy Callahan? When Doug meets Jimmy, the latter explains his services. There are 2.4 million weddings in the United States each year. Not every one of the grooms has someone who can serve as a best man. So, for a fee, Jimmy assumes the facade as the groom’s best friend and serve as his best man. Jimmy has developed an uncanny skill at feigning friendship with total stranger. He is able to concoct elaborate back stories about their imaginary shared pasts. Jimmy is totally cynical about his duplicitous modus operandi.

Doug’s wedding poses a particular challenge for Jimmy. He not only has to serve as a best man, he must recruit a full crew of faux groomsmen. It entails Jimmy providing the Golden Tuxedo package. Doug doesn’t blink at the price tag–a whopping $50,000.

However, when Doug first meets the guys that Jimmy has dug up, he is appalled. He protests, “These guys can not be my groomsmen. It looks like the entire cast of ‘Goonies’ grew up and became rapists!” It is never explicitly stated, but although Doug is a white boy, the motley crew that Jimmy assembled includes three African Americans, a Latino, and an Asian American. Moreover, none of the recruits seem as if they share Doug’s privileged class background.

Other incongruities abound. Is it plausible that Doug’s fiancée has never noticed that her honey has no friends? Couldn’t Doug just hire some of his underlings to pose as his buddies for the occasion and obviate the need to pony up $50,000? In fact, wouldn’t some of them do it just to curry favor with their boss?

Some will take exception to the film’s racial iconography. Kevin Hart’s character is a so-called “Magical Negro.” His character is evocative of Will Smith in “Hitch,” where the eponymous protagonist is an African American date doctor. He helps a socially challenged white guy (Kevin James) to woo a blonde object of desire, who is clearly out of his league. In “The Wedding Ringer,” once again the character of color makes a living out of helping a soulless white guy to be more cool.

“The Wedding Ringer” had plenty of other things in it to find objectionable. There are some offensive racial and homophobic stereotypes. Elder abuse  is a recurrent theme. In one scene, an elderly grandmother (Cloris Leachman) is set on fire to provide laughs. Other scenes feature a dottering old man (Tom Fitzpatrick), who is apparently suffering from senile dementia. A groomsman with a pronounced speech impediment (Alan Ritchson) repeatedly becomes the butt of humor for his stutter.

Mitigating against all of the film’s problems, Kevin Hart brings his infectious energy to the screen. Once again, he demonstrates his capacity for both physical comedy and a deft use of well-inflected verbal humor. Here, he has the additional challenge of capturing an unexpected character trajectory.

Hart draws help from certain members of his supporting cast. Jenifer Lewis is convincing  as his no-nonsense assistant. Ignacio Serrichio is able to flip back and forth between his true nature as a macho Latino and his assumed identity as a flamboyant gay. Olivia Thirlby has a small, but pivotal, role as the bride’s suspicious sister.

It is a tribute to Hart’s likeability that he can trump the manifest shortcomings of “The Wedding Ringer” and turn it into a likeable comedy.

*** R (for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity) 101 minutes

A screen capture from a trailer to the film "The Wedding Ringer" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG5CnCgnplU

A screen capture from a trailer to the film “The Wedding Ringer” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG5CnCgnplU

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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