Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trouble In Paradise

Year: 2016
Director: Jake Szymanski
Cast: Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Zac Efron is killing it this year. He’s starred in no fewer than three R-Rated comedies in 2016 (four, if The Disaster Artist is ever set free from the James Franco vault), and with heartthrobs like him, quantity is always more important than quality. Which is great news, because the only semi-decent movie he’s been in all year is Neighbors 2. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates isn’t as flagrantly despicable as Dirty Grandpa, but there’s no universe where I’d call it a “good” movie.

I mean, come on! He only takes his shirt off ONCE!

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates takes place in a world where the phrase “wedding date” is used in casual conversation waaaaaay more frequently than our own. Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron) are brothers who love themselves a good debauch. When their parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) force them to bring dates to their sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) Hawaii wedding in order to curtail their antics, they put out a Craigslist ad looking for nice girls to bring so they don’t ruin the wedding. The ad goes viral (this part actually happened in real life) and they end up on Wendy Williams, where they catch the eye of local girls-about-town Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick).

The hard-drinking duo fake being respectable so they can econ their way into an all-expenses-paid Hawaii vacation. Antics ensue and they’re at least a little less racist and homophobic than Dirty Grandpa.

So there’s that.

Obviously, that’s a high bar for offensiveness, so Mike and Dave still has plenty of room to muck about in frivolous bigotry and general stereotyping. I will say this: The stereotypes they use here are some deep cuts, so your average moviegoer won’t’ have as much of a problem with them as I do, but that doesn’t make them any less ill-advised. We get a predatory lesbian, a black side character who only acts as a hype man for the white people’s antics, a genuinely baffling cross-dressing sequence that would have been stale in the 90’s, and Kumail Nanjiani’s first truly bothersome Indian role. But they do depict an interracial wedding and restrict themselves to only one joke about it, so they get a gold star for that, I guess.

Honestly, I’d be able to overlook these patches of cliché crassness if there was anything else in the movie to latch onto. The comedy is a relaxing, genial sort that keeps you comfortably above the boredom line without actually reaching for any big laughs. While it’s certainly diverting, it’s far from memorable. It’s not bad, it just immediately slips from your mind like a fistful of sardines.

The comedy here does what every establishing shot shows: coasts. All four of the leads here are charismatic young stars and that counts for a lot, but they lean heavily on their established personas to do all the work here. Devine is the sputtering, half-improvised jackass. Efron chugs along with his surprisingly sharp comic timing and his baby doll eyes that never seem to focus on anything. His mouth and body move, but his eyes just stare vacantly into the middle distance like he’s having an apocalyptic premonition. It’s kind of frightening. And then of course there’s Plaza with her sardonic bravado. Only Kendrick is creating any sort of character here, but the role is a meek little dishrag that doesn’t bring anything particularly interesting to the table.

It’s like if you put a chipmunk’s brain in a human body.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is just too easygoing. It lets its performers noodle around while the spinning plates of the plot fall to the floor one by one and shatter into a million pieces, using exhausted clichés to rush through an ill-thought-out scenario (of course Zac Efron dreams of being a graphic novel artist). The central conceit (bad girls faking being good girls) loses gas long before the midpoint, sputtering and stalling after about two and a half scenes (in fact, this slippery conceit is eerily similar to Efron’s earlier easily-distracted opus That Awkward Moment). If Charles Lindbergh had tried to fly across the Atlantic using Mike and Dave, he would have crashed in the New York Harbor.And then the final 20 minutes pretend we’ve been watching an actual story the whole time and drown us in a deluge of unearned character development.

Oh, and did I mention this film indulges in some of the most frustrating trends of modern comedy? We get some of that alarmingly violent slapstick that non-Paul Feigs love to dole out on Melissa McCarthy. Then there’s a lovely selection of half-hearted post-Hangover gross-out body humor. Oh, and then there’s a dash of sitcom setups just for bland flavor (they don’t realizes their microphones are on! What a pickle!). And the film’s occasional feints toward absurdism wither make less than no sense or completely dismantle a character (The script never does manage to establish whether Dave is a drooling idiot or the vastly more intelligent straight man for his brother’s antics. Maybe it’s both, come to think of it.) Like I said, it’s enjoyable enough, but it’s just so unambitious.

So, all in all, Mike an Dave Need Wedding Dates isn’t, like, a deplorable waste of your time. Just a milquetoast one. And it’s still the second best Efron comedy of the year, so if you loved Dirty Grandpa, have at it. You have my blessing, though I mostly feel like cursing that I spent money on this.

*This has nothing to do with Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but it’s far more interesting. I was doing a spot of research on Lindbergh, and a glance at the list of his children led me through a mind-boggling array of discoveries. After fathering six children by his wife, it was discovered on his deathbed that he had seven more children spread between three secret families. Two of his secret European brides were SISTERS. He didn’t cross the Atlantic to break records, he just wanted to get some. It’s like an American Pie prequel up in here.

TL;DR: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is mildly amusing, so it's never a chore, but it fails entirely to impress.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1067

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