“The Wedding Ringer” is “Wedding Crashers Redux” that softens manic funnyman Kevin Hart’s persona into someone more sentimental than abrasive. That helps “Ringer” work as a bromantic comedy that feels like a romantic comedy.
Like “Crashers,” it’s built on a killer conceit. It’s about a guy who hires himself out as a rent-a-best man. Jimmy Callahan (Hart) rescues grooms who have failed to create and hang onto long-term friendships. In our overworked and digitally-isolated culture, who has time for a “posse,” “my boys,” or a BFF close enough to stand up with you at the altar?
First-time feature director and co-writer Jeremy Garelick flips through scenes of Jimmy wearing a yarmulke or a wig, the life of the party at weddings of all races and genders. He does his homework and gives a tender, moving wedding reception toast. He’s so good at pretending to have been in someone’s life for decades, at knowing the groom’s heart, that he leaves the room in tears – every time. Occasionally, a client is so overcome he suggests they pal around afterward. But Jimmy keeps his distance.
“You know the rules. No contact after final payment.”
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Sure, that can make for a lonely life. But Jimmy’s a professional.
Enter sad sack Doug, played by Josh Gad (“Jobs,” Frozen”) in a breakout role. Doug is about to marry a bombshell, Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting of “The Big Bang Theory”). Doug knows how lucky he is, but he’s so hapless he doesn’t just need a best man, he needs a team of groomsmen.
And he’s rich enough to afford “The Golden Tux” – that’s Jimmy’s full service treatment. Jimmy proceeds to hire a motley crew that includes a stammering stripper, an ex-con, a TSA agent (Affion Crockett) and a Roto-Rooter man (Jorge Garcia). Jimmy coaches one and all about Doug and his background, stages fake boy-bonding photos and teaches tricks – blurting out “random words,” questions or compliments – for avoiding awkward conversations that will give away their con.
Hart cranks up his R-rated bug-eyed comic bark a few times. He amps up the energy and makes Gad, a funny guy, funnier. Gad, in turn, brings out Hart’s sweet side.
But theres’ really not much new here, although a savvy, sassy script, smart casting and genuine “I feel sorry for this white boy” chemistry between Hart and Gad make “Wedding Ringer” an R-rated bromance that will touch you as often as it tickles you.
‘The Wedding Ringer’
Rating: R for language
Starring: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting
Directed by: Jeremy Garelick