Ringing my bell with laughter is “The Wedding Ringer”. Directed by Jeremy Garelick and co-written by Garelick and Jay Lavender, “The Wedding Ringer” goes into what is, in many respects, virginal best man territory, putting Kevin Hart and Josh Gad together for one of the best bromances ever and some of the biggest laughs you’ll see on screen. Calling on the likes of Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Ken Howard, Mimi Rogers, Olivia Thirlby, Jenifer Lewis and Cloris Leachman, comedy veterans rush the end zone and score on every level while football legends like Joe Namath and “Too Tall” Jones come in for the point after.
Jimmy Callahan is the man, the “best man”. Hiring himself out as a rent-a-best-man, Jimmy is the savior to grooms who are friendless. His business, Best Man, Inc., is beyond lucrative, and necessary, but there is one cardinal rule – there’s no contact with Jimmy after the wedding. We meet Jimmy going through the motions of creating personas and relationships for every different kind of guy out there and given the great montage of jobs, one would think he’s done it all and seen it all; until we meet Doug.
Doug is a successful tax attorney but is not what you’d call “a catch” in the looks or personality department, yet he is about to marry Gretchen, one of the hottest women walking. Problem is, Gretchen is planning a huge wedding and while she has all the friends that lifelong money can buy, Doug has none. Zilch. Zip. Nada. With the clock running out, Doug is desperate to shine in front of Gretchen and her family but where is he going to get a best man and groomsmen. Luckily for Doug, there’s Jimmy Callahan and Best Man, Inc.
Filling a necessary and untapped niche in the wedding business, Jimmy is a friend indeed to those in need and who have none of their own. And luckily for Doug, he’s got the cash to hire Callahan. But Doug’s needs are a stretch even for Callahan. Doug needs what Callahan calls “The Golden Tux” – best man, seven groomsmen, bachelor party, life histories (based on Doug’s fabrications to Gretchen and her family which also means Jimmy’s name is “Bic Mitchum” – and he’s a priest…in the military) – and all in a week. Let the games begin!
And games is exactly what we get as Gad and Hart go for broke with rapid-fire patter, improv-ed dialogue and some great physical comedy, in many cases hitting the caliber of vintage slapstick. Their energy is infectious, as is their comedy, thanks in large part to the comedic timing of each. But where the comedy truly excels is when director Garelick adds the groomsmen to the mix, the casting of which is impeccable – Affion Crockett and Colin Kane perhaps the greatest standouts as Drysdale and Plunkett, respectively. But what is most appreciated is the chemistry between Hart and Gad as Hart lets Gad shine and show off his comedic skills while Hart gets to showcase a softer and more sentimental side of his repertoire. It’s a wonderful pairing.
An extremely cohesive comedy casting all around, as Jimmy’s assistant Doris, Jenifer Lewis adds some necessary grounding and maternal lecturings and quite honestly, steals some of the scenes from all the boys. Cloris Leachman, while having minimal dialogue and screen time, goes through the roof with her facial expressions as Granny set on fire. Not to be missed is Ignacio Serricchio as wedding planner “Edmundo”. And then there’s Garelick’s casting coup of Joe Namath and some other gridiron legends who add their own layer of antics to the proceedings with Ken Howard.
No stranger to television comedy, as Gretchen, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, more than holds her own against Hart and Gad, making her voice and facial expressiveness more than integral to the game at hand. Not often thought of as comedians, Mimi Rogers and Ken Howard, play the put-off parents of the bride beautifully, showing off their own comedic timing with appropriate responsiveness. Disappointing is the limited screentime of Olivia Thirlby and the minimal use of her character, Alison. There is a definite chemistry with Hart with a subplot involving the two characters that makes one take notice and something which cries for further development; perhaps in a sequel (?).
The script is well constructed replete with tongue-in-cheek dialogue that is not only fun and often touchstones to other films, but immediately addressed and explained so as not to seem a hackneyed “been there, done that.” Be on the lookout for a laugh-out-loud nod to “Lost” thanks to some witty dialogue and the casting of Jorge Garcia as one of the “groomsmen”, not to mention an in-your-face play on “Father of the Bride”. Nice technique by Garelick and Lavender. Although a few scenes and schticks lag in comparison to the more high octane fodder of Hart and Gad, and if running time an issue could even be trimmed without hurting the overall film, the end result is evenly paced and consistently funny.
On the whole, “The Wedding Ringer” is fast, crisp, clean. The script is tight and lensing tighter thanks to some excellent editing by Jeff Groth, Shelly Westerman and Byron Wong, particularly when it comes to a football game between Namath, “Too Tall” Jones, Howard and company versus Hart, Gad and the other groomsmen (and yes, Kevin Hart, we know you shot a muddy game with no mud on your face!), as well as an earlier dance sequence featuring Hart and Gad who put “Dancing With the Stars” to shame.
Produced by Will Packer, this is without a doubt the best production to come under his banner. Interestingly, this is also the first Kevin Hart film to boast an “R” rating thanks to some very interesting bachelor party antics!
Breathing great comedic life, “The Wedding Ringer” just rings my bell with laughter, heartfelt honesty and humor.
Directed by Jeremy Garelick
Written by Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender
Cast: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Olivia Thirlby, Jenifer Lewis, Ken Howard, Mimi Rogers, Cloris Leachman, Affion Crockett