“Does anyone else feel really fucking gay right now?” someone bellows early into The Wedding Ringer, and the floodgates of rampant homophobia swing wide open. Not since Wild Hogs, perhaps, has a comedy so repeatedly insisted that there’s nothing funnier than the thought of two men touching each other. Over the next 100 minutes or so, there will be jokes about prison rape, about guys giving blowjobs for drug money, and about straight dudes dancing with other straight dudes, sometimes cheek to cheek. There will also be a loudly effeminate wedding planner who turns out to be “flaming up” to earn more business, and a montage of photos from various nuptials that will end, for extra amusing punctuation, with an image of kissing grooms. The Wedding Ringer has so many gay jokes that some of them apparently didn’t even make the final cut; one gag from the TV spots, in which an old woman compliments “those gays” on their fancy footwork, isn’t actually in the movie. Don’t worry, there are plenty of comparable bits to fill the void.
This is business as usual for the bromantic comedy, a genre that believes in the transcendent power of male friendship, but not so much so that it doesn’t feel the need to beat the audience to the gay-panic punch. (Lest anyone mistake the platonic love between two bros as more than platonic, there are tons of jokes to make the distinction clear.) The Wedding Ringer, which casts Kevin Hart as a best-man-for-hire and Josh Gad as the friendless dweeb who acquires his services, draws on many of the last decade’s worst comedy clichés. To be fair, it may technically predate them: The project was conceived as early as 2001, years before many of the movies it unflatteringly resembles—including Wedding Crashers, Hitch, and I Love You, Man—hit theaters. The film’s attitudes about men and women, however, feel at least as old as early ’90s sitcoms. Set aside, for the moment, the endless tittering about guy-on-guy contact, and this is also a movie that believes that a wedding is only “her day,” to be dutifully endured by the patient hubby.
The Wedding Ringer’s ace in the hole is clearly Hart, who signed on shortly before his career went supernova. He gets a star’s introduction, at least: The camera follows a plate of fancy appetizers through the kitchen and out onto the dancefloor of a rooftop reception, finally landing on the comedian, mid-boogie, like a spotlight. Hart plays Jimmy, a professional faux-BFF who earns his keep as wedding-party wingmen to those lacking in close mates. One such “loser,” as Jimmy calls them, is Doug (Gad), an awkward nice guy who’s been lying to his bossy wife-to-be (The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, tossed a thankless bridezilla role) about a best friend he doesn’t have. Hired to play imaginary army priest Bic Mitchum—the name is later explained in a faintly amusing Usual Suspects spoof—Jimmy assembles a team of Sandler-esque misfits to play Doug’s groomsmen, schooling his team on the finer points of sustaining an enormous lie.
As contrived sitcom premises go, it’s not so awful, and there’s some humor to be had in the way Jimmy runs his enterprise—committing phony details to memory, staging photos of old adventures, using verbal misdirection to dodge a hard line of questioning. But Hart, for all his inspired braggadocio, doesn’t really convince as a chameleon; he’s just not the type of guy who could slip easily into whatever “role” Jimmy might be charged with occupying, and so many of the gags simply hinge on the supposed hilarity of the fast-talking cut-up from Ride Along pretending to be a man of God. Rather than forcing the two stars to bluff their way through lots of high-wire social situations, The Wedding Ringer just kills time with low-aiming pratfalls: a bachelor-party gone wrong, a pointless car chase, an equally pointless football game. Gad, for his part, seems to be positioning himself as a millennial answer to Chris Farley or Kevin James. In other words, he falls down a lot.
The heart of this rancid buddy comedy should be the burgeoning friendship between Doug, who has no male companions, and Jimmy, who has only fake ones. But the two never build much of a rapport; their inevitable bromance feels as phony as the manufactured one they present to Doug’s future in-laws. That could be because Hart, who’s as mercenary as his character, and Gad, who’s just going through the slapstick motions, fail to generate any co-star chemistry. On the other hand, maybe it’s just that they’re headlining a salute to male bonding that’s terrified of male bonding. For the filmmakers, any genuine show of affection between two men may be too close for comfort to “really fucking gay.”