Adam Devine Anna Kendrick

MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES Review: Please Stop Hiring Adam Devine, Hollywood

Monday, July 11, 2016 Rob Samuelson

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opening credits sequence is a delirious, stylized paean to fun as Mike (Adam Devine) and his little brother Dave (Zac Efron) wear Uncle Sam costumes while coordinating firework launches. They bounce on a trampoline and do flips and karate kicks as the world’s biggest, most joyful smiles cross their faces and the credits pop on the screen. Their friends and family members beam with pride at these wonderful party starters, glad to have these lovable brothers in their lives. The camera glides in slow motion across these ecstatic gatherings, letting bright colors dance in the frame, which is balanced and centered, enough to show the delight shared by everyone in attendance.




Of course, it is all fantasy, the idealized life Mike and Dave create for themselves so they don’t have to confront the fact that they ruin every family event they attend. Unfortunately for those watching, the experience of watching that credits sequence is itself a cruel illusion of something better. After the credits finish, director Jake Szymanski’s (7 Days in Hell, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) first feature-length movie flattens, losing all dynamism as it retreats into the tired schtick of its stars and halfhearted visual gags that go on too long.


After a scolding by their father (the always good Stephen Root of Office Space and much more) about their penchant for destroying every family gathering, Mike and Dave, a pair of liquor salesmen who continue to live together as they approach 30, agree to find suitable dates for their sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding to Eric (Sam Richardson). Root’s defeated disappointment in his male offspring is a dependable source of humor throughout the film that could stand to be played up.


The two man children seemingly do not have any female friends or romantic prospects who would be willing to go to a destination wedding in Hawaii, so they place a Craigslist ad that goes viral. The brothers start hosting tryouts for all the women who wish to join them on a free Hawaiian vacation. A steady string of unsuitable women, including prostitutes and a man in a dress, fail the simple test required to join them in the Pacific islands. A “15 minutes of fame”-style appearance on The Wendy Williams Show catches the eyes of Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation) and Alice (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect), a pair of party girls whose pre-work drinking costs them their jobs at a Hooters-like bar. Plaza, at least in the early going, surprises with a newfound angry energy, doing away with her tried and true disaffected boredom. She and Kendrick each have hints of a working class New York accent, straight out of the secretary pool of Working Girl.


Indeed, if the film had been made in 1989, Melanie Griffith would have been perfect casting for Tatiana, even more than the actress who got the part. For all her skill at being moody and detached, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is among the first times Plaza has branched out. Quickly, though, that wing spreading gets snuffed out by inattentive character building from the rest of the creative team. Once the plot gets going in earnest -- Tatiana and Alice con the brothers into thinking they are a second grade teacher and a hedge fund manager, respectively -- they lose the things that made them remotely interesting in the early scenes. Even when it is no longer necessary to keep up the appearance of the women’s fraudulent identities, Szymanski doesn’t bother directing the female leads to regain the personalities or accents they were introduced with. This is likely meant to represent character arcs, as though they are learning a lesson and implementing that lesson into their growth as human beings, but it comes off as if someone had simply forgotten key elements of who these characters are.


If there is anyone in the cast whose personality should be dramatically changed, it is Devine’s Mike. Since becoming a star with his Comedy Central series Workaholics, Devine has been nothing but a constant irksome presence in 2010s comedy series and films, a performer who only does two things -- scream and sing poorly. He delivers every punchline with a 13-year-old boy’s pubescent screeching, a cracked voice at an obscene volume. And yet here he is, like he has been in everything from the Pitch Perfect movies to Community, providing the annoying weak link in the chain. Here, his standard “overconfidence masking stupidity” act ambles its way through, yes, yet another song and dance routine, set to both Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” and Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” that feels like Devine’s agent has mandated his barely-able-to-carry-a-tune client belt out a song or two in everything he appears in.


As Dave, Zac Efron at least avoids becoming as tiresome as Devine, but that is because the movie doesn’t know what to do with him. He is treated as the soulful brother, the middle child who would rather be pursuing his art -- he wants to draw graphic novels about alcohol-themed characters, which are never treated like the jokes they easily could (should?) be -- than doing what his needy older brother requires of him. He is still a buffoon, which does not work because Szymanski and screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien also try to give him the straight man role and the romantic arc, too, as the one who is really close to giving a shot to a relationship with Alice. If the movie needs to change gears, it turns its attention to perpetual empathy machine Dave, who is left as nothing more than a shapeless blob -- odd, given upcoming Baywatch star Efron’s body builder physique.


If Szymanski and company had at least snuck in some of the visual gags that worked in his Funny or Die shorts or in the satirical skewering of 30 for 30 documentaries that was 2015’s 7 Days in Hell, there might be something to chew on in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. But after the aforementioned credits sequence, Szymanski retreats into a film that is almost all lazy medium shots, little camera movement, and misplaced trust in the performers’ ability to sell the barely constructed jokes. The visual moment the movie is clearly proudest of involves Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani as a ponytailed masseur who gets slipped a $20 bill for some “special treatment” of the bride-to-be. But falls flat, because unlike the constant joke escalation and misdirection of 7 Days in Hell or the Will Ferrell “music video,” Bat Fight, Szymanski coasts on a lightly comedic premise by making Nanjiani and Beard do a bunch of takes of whatever they think might work in the moment. And he just leaves them in there without care to rhythm or even which iteration of the joke might work best as the final punchline.

In the rare moments when Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates succeeds in laughs, it is due to the comic chops of Anna Kendrick. The funniest sequence, unsurprisingly, involves her and Szymanski coming together to do something the rest of the movie doesn’t bother to do. While Alice is rolling on Ecstasy, Szymanski takes the camera off its tripod and shoves it right in her face, pupils dilated and mouth filled with cotton begging for some water. The antics that follow return the film to its natural state of unsatisfactorily plodding along, but for that brief moment, it becomes something with a touch of inspiration. At least it has that going for it. Director: Jake Szymanski
Writers: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O'Brien
Starring: Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, Stephen Root, Alice Wetterlund
Rating: One-and-a-half stars out of five
Available in theaters now

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