“The Wedding Ringer” is “Wedding Crashers Redux,” a “Hangover Lite” that softens manic funnyman Kevin Hart’s persona into someone almost as funny, but 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. Hart plays Jimmy, who hires himself out as a rent-a-best man for 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” or 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 afterword. But Jimmy keeps his distance.
“You know the rules. No contact after final payment.”
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 the 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 — groomsmen named for assorted famous athletes, the only names Doug could think of when grilled by Gretchen about his half of the wedding party.
And he’s rich enough to afford “The Golden Tux” — 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. Cuoco-Sweeting has only a single scene that allows us to think she wasn’t hired for the short-shorts/tight tank top that have been the keys to her TV success.
There’s a a disastrous first-meeting dinner in which granny (Cloris Leachman) has to catch on fire to keep the bride’s grumpy-wary dad (Ken Howard, hilarious) from uncovering the ruse. The show-stopping moment might be when Jimmy discovers Doug’s hidden skill. Think “Napoleon Dynamite.”
And there’s a touch football game with the family of the bride that doesn’t quite one-up the “Wedding Crashers” version of that gimmick.
So there’s not much new here. But 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.