Friday, January 16, 2015

The Wedding Ringer

The convulsive roars of laughter from the preview audience confirm it: Kevin Hart is really on a roll.

His new comedy, "The Wedding Ringer," is the first must-see of 2015, 100 minutes of hilarity that offer great value for your hard-earned moviegoing dollar. Hart is everything Chris Rock isn't in "Top Five": funny, relatable, appealing. In picture after picture, he shows how to score big laughs while making those around him better, from his interplay with Alan Arkin in "Grudge Match" and Ice Cube in "Ride Along" to "About Last Night," in which Regina Hall gave the female comic performance of last year. So while he's not my idea of a sex symbol, it's easy to imagine this generous co-star as a giving lover (which we all know is the best kind). 

"The Wedding Ringer" rekindles memories of those R-rated comedies we loved as teenagers, with just the right dose of raunch and profanity to make us feel cool and grown-up. Hart plays Jimmy Callahan, the owner-operator of Best Man, Inc., who for a four-to-five-figure fee serves as best man to grooms in need. Now there's a terrific premise; you can actually imagine guys who'd use a service like that. Josh Gad (not normally a favorite of mine, but highly likable here) is Doug Harris, an international tax attorney (yay!) about to marry Gretchen, a hottie way out of his league (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). With his entire half of the wedding party empty, he comes to Hart's office (in the basement of a miniature golf course) to order the "Golden Tux": a best man, seven groomsmen, and a week of prep to get their stories straight and take enough pictures together to pass as lifelong friends.

What I love about "The Wedding Ringer" is that it's not just the Kevin Hart show. Writers Jay Lavender and Jeremy Garelick (who also directed) have filled out the script with dozens of richly conceived supporting roles, almost all of whom get one or more laughs. Besides Gad and Cuoco-Sweeting, there's Ken Howard as Doug's disapproving father-in-law-to-be; Cloris Leachman as Gretchen's grandma, accidentally set on fire but none the worse for wear; Ignacio Serricchio as Edmundo, a tough gay cholo who flames it up "Father of the Bride"-style as the couple's wedding planner; and hunky Trevor Brunsink as a stuttering groomsman whose PTD (party trick distraction) is to wiggle his pecs the way one might wiggle one's ears. (Hart's patter is an Urban Dictionary of TLA's.) And so many more. Even when the plot hits a brief lull, something funny's always happening, a little eye roll, or a double take, or a tossed-off one-liner. 

"The Wedding Ringer" is smart, has heart, and delivers a shit-ton of laughs. I'm not in the prediction business, but I see it doing boffo box office for weeks to come on the strength of solid word-of-mouth. Here's a great entertainment for all audiences.

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