One of the earliest jokes in Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates is one of the movie’s cleverest. After a brief cold open, the opening credits roll over images of brothers Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) Stangle engaging in flashy, over-the-top partying antics: lots of face-pulling and slow-motion, backed by a bass-heavy party-hard pop song. A few minutes after the sequence ends, the boys are confronted by their parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy), sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard), and her fiancé Eric (Sam Richardson) about their tendency to ruin family gatherings with their codependent shenanigans, and how they must tether themselves to calming dates for Jeanie and Eric’s upcoming wedding. To support their case, they roll home-movie footage of the same gatherings glimpsed in the credit sequence, the free-spirited good times now chased with injuries, panicked screams, and at least one explosion. Mike and Dave are aghast, demanding to see the “epic tracking shots of smiling faces” that they remember. The gap between bros-will-be-bros goofiness and the human collateral in their wake is hilariously illustrated.
There are many more jokes after that one, delivered in a tizzy through a scenario so high-concept it almost goes back around to over-complicated. The Stangle brothers, who live, work, and party together, acquiesce to their family’s demands, and place an ad looking for “nice girls” to take to Hawaii for the wedding. The ad goes viral, as the kids say, and the boys wind up on TV (this is the truest part of a “sort of” true story from 2013 that inspired a quickie book and this movie), which is how their predicament reaches Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), a pair of hard-partying best friends who make it their mission to scam a free island vacation by pretending to be nice, respectable, parent-pleasing girls.
With Tatiana and Alice pretending to be the types of girls that Mike and Dave pretend to want, and all four capable of having “fun” to the detriment of others, the movie raises some interesting questions about self-deception. To what degree are these four people defined by what they’re imitating? The movie’s clear influences add another layer of imitation: Efron and Devine’s immature teamwork suggests that they’ve been watching Step Brothers a lot, while Kendrick and Plaza act like they’ve been studying Tina Fey. Plaza in particular spends at least the first half-hour of the movie saying most of her lines in Fey’s mock-confident voice, used sarcastically on 30 Rock and more sincerely as the alcoholic therapist on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Credited screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien worked on the Neighbors series, but they also crib from Wedding Crashers to the extent that the Stangles refer to the movie, and a specific plot point, directly.
The unevenness of that last one nonwithstanding, these are not bad things to copy, and the performers are more than capable of pulling off homages to better material. Kendrick, whose character is haplessly nursing a broken heart, and Plaza, who is more of an all-purpose schemer, are particularly charming in their freedom to act like dummies and subvert the usual “nice girl” of a wedding-centric romantic comedy. Efron doesn’t reach Neighbors levels of inspiration, but he does finally give a performance that lands between those peaks and his frequent puppy-himbo valleys—he’s funny, and a semi-credible romantic lead opposite Kendrick. He also functions as a restrained relief next to Devine, who spends a lot of time screaming and sputtering, a human scattershot.
It’s hard to blame Devine for committing so hard and so loud; the movie’s whole comic style is wildly undisciplined. It’s also not ineffective. Director Jake Szymanski doesn’t bring much visual flair to the proceedings (despite a background in the visual mimicry of HBO’s 7 Days In Hell and some Saturday Night Live filmed pieces), mostly falling back on an overuse of slow-motion pop-scored strutting. (At least some of the music choices are solid; Kendrick and Plaza’s confidence accompanied by blasts of “Kids” by Sleigh Bells is pretty irresistible.) But this movie never aims for classical farce; it involves, instead, lots of fast talking, references to outrageous moments from the characters’ pasts, and micro-riffs, in the vein of a modern comedy aiming for first-tier Rogen/Goldberg but happy to settle for a second-tier episode of New Girl. When the movie goes after bigger comic set pieces than improv-friendly “you look like…” runs (e.g., “you look like burn-victim Barbie”), it tends to get a little dodgy, as with a long sequence of weird sexually tinged slapstick at a spa.
The frenetic verbal humor bouncing off all of the self-reflection over who the characters are hurting with their various codependent shenanigans produces something like a millennial echo chamber, complete with Jurassic Park and Ninja Turtles references. This might well sound like a nightmare to non-millennial non-bros. But there’s something liberating about a comedy where all four central characters fuck up with such youthful bravado. A more focused comedy might have treated the opening contrast as an inspired jumping-off point rather than a general theme—and crafted more jokes that linger, rather than dissipating as soon as they land. But Mike And Dave’s crudeness of form and content is, in its own way, likably expressive.