D: Jake Szymanski / 98m
Cast: Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine, Aubrey Plaza, Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, Alice Wetterlund, Mary Holland, Kumail Nanjiani, Jake Johnson
The Stangle brothers – Mike (Devine) and Dave (Efron) – are party animals who consistently disrupt and ruin any and all family occasions. Their parents (Root, Faracy) are fed up with their antics and provide them with an ultimatum: for their sister, Jeanie’s (Beard) upcoming wedding in Hawaii, the brothers have to bring dates with them, dates who will stop them from trying to impress all the single women there and causing chaos in the process. For two young men in their twenties, finding “nice girls” proves to be a bit of a challenge. So what’s the obvious answer? Easy – put an advert on Craigslist offering an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii for the two lucky women who are suitable companions.
Unsurprisingly, the vetting process isn’t as speedy as the brothers would like, and it’s not until they go on The Wendy Williams Show that best friends and equally riotous party girls Alice (Kendrick) and Tatiana (Plaza) take an interest in the offer, and decide that they are the perfect candidates for the “job”. They meet Mike and Dave, pretend to be a hedge fund manager and teacher respectively, and find that their machinations have done the trick: they’re off to Hawaii.
The brothers’ parents, and everyone else for that matter, are impressed with their choice of partners. But as the stay continues, Alice and Tatiana’s true characters begin to express themselves. Tatiana refuses to have anything to do with a clearly infatuated Mike, while Alice begins a tentative relationship with Dave. They do their best to have a good time, while Mike and Dave do their best to behave themselves. But an unscheduled quad biking trip through Jurassic Park country finds Jeanie the victim of Mike’s carelessness, and suffering facial injuries that threaten her wedding day. Add to the mix a conniving cousin (Wetterlund), a massage therapist (Nanjiani) with a very “personal” touch, a groom considered by the bride to be boring, and increasing divisions between Mike and Dave, and there’s very little chance that their sister’s wedding is going to go ahead as planned. Far from it, in fact…
By now we should be used to the idea that women can be just as non-PC and crude as their male counterparts, and it’s an idea that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates clings onto with all its might. In fact, it clings onto the idea as if it were the only idea it could have. Even when it becomes clear that Alice and Dave are falling in love – and therefore it’s only a matter of time before the same happens to Tatiana and Mike – the movie wants to have its cake and eat it by trying to convince the audience that any redemption will be short-lived. But we’ve all been here way too many times for such a clumsy notion to work, and by the movie’s end, Mike and Dave and Alice and Tatiana are no longer the rough diamonds we’ve been encouraged to cheer on from the start, but polished individuals with an improved sense of propriety, and heading for a life of domesticated bliss.
It’s a well-worn road to Damascus that these characters take, and that familiarity breeds an acceptance that the script, by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, won’t try to do anything different in its closing stages. With examples of gross-out humour proving unforthcoming, the movie falls back on a handful (literally, in one scene) of sex jokes, and a short sequence where Alice and Jeanie get high on E’s. Elsewhere, Devine yells and shouts and makes agonised faces, while Efron adopts a strained, perpexed expression throughout, as if he’s read the script, passed on it, and is completely amazed that he’s actually making the movie after all. And Kendrick does what Kendrick does, not best, but all the time: plays Alice in the same perky, quirky way she plays all her other roles, from Martha in Mr. Right (2015) to Dana in The Accountant (2016). (Is there no beginning to her talent as an actress?)
Thankfully, there’s respite from all the stillborn humour and desperate attempts to instill laughter, and it comes in the form of Aubrey Plaza. Plaza has an uncanny ability to appear bored and engaged at the same time, and this apparent displacement allows her to give a performance that keeps the viewer on their toes; you’re never sure just what she’s going to say or do next. All you can be sure of is that the combination of her expressions and the way she delivers her dialogue won’t be as telegraphed or predictable as that of her co-stars. Plaza isn’t afraid to take risks in her performances, and it’s this that makes her so interesting to watch.
With the movie proving entirely lacklustre, and relying on the kind of contrived set ups so familiar from a dozen or more similar movies – it even references Wedding Crashers (2005), a movie that makes this movie look like it was put together by people who haven’t actually seen Wedding Crashers – all the viewer can do is hope that it’ll all be over sooner rather than later. In the director’s chair, Szymanski makes his feature debut after years of writing and directing video shorts with titles such as Bat Fight With Will Ferrell and Denise Richards’ Funbags (both 2009), and makes a decent enough fist of things but can’t make it all flow together in a way that would make it more palatable. And with the performances being so wayward – Efron seems to be in a different movie from everyone else (maybe he was still wishing he was), Wetterlund sets back the cause of credible lesbian performances by about a thousand years – it’s a movie that doesn’t even do justice to its Hawaiian locations.
Rating: 4/10 – despite being based on a true story (two brothers really did advertise for wedding dates on Craigslist), Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates takes the basic idea and doesn’t come up with anything it can run with; unfunny for long stretches, the movie lurches from one dispiriting confrontation to another without ever stopping to think if what it’s doing is actually working – which it isn’t.