The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:



One from the Hart

Screen Gems
101 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Jeremy Garelick
Starring: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad
Wedding Ringer

Many comic actors perfect a screen persona and essentially play that same role over and over again, sometimes for decades. The names of the characters played by Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers changed from movie to movie, but they were always playing what the public perceived as themselves. So too, Kevin Hart has created a screen identity, the motormouth, sex obsessed, cocky quipster he has played for the past decade. So it may come as a surprise to some people that what at first glance appears to be a typical Kevin Hart role in The Wedding Ringer turns out to be a real person, maybe not three dimensional, but at least two-and-a-half, in a movie that managed to surprise me more than once.


At first glance, Jimmy Callahan seems to be trademarked Kevin Hart in a tux. He’s a fast talking semi-con artist whose business is posing as the best man for socially challenged bachelors. He’s the perfect best man: sincere, charming, a good conversationalist and a loyal friend to the groom. Except it’s all a fake; he and the groom barely know each other, and, like Cinderella, their relationship ends once the wedding reception does.


Jimmy seems like the perfect solution for Doug Harris (Josh Gad), a good-natured nice guy who’s never made friends. Doug’s gorgeous fiancée (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) and jerk of a future father-in-law (Ken Howard) are anxious to meet his best man, and his wedding is taking place in less than two weeks. Not only does he needs a best man, but also seven groomsmen, and, to make matters worse, he’s already concocted bizarre life histories for these nonexistent friends. Doug’s even given these groomsmen the names of some of his favorite sports stars, like Drysdale, Alzado, and Garvey. Jimmy, however, is up to the challenge of providing the ultimate service, the “golden tux.” After recruiting some of his friends, Jimmy winds up holding open auditions for the remaining groomsmen, winding up with a bizarre assortment, including one guy who’s recently been released from prison and another whose “talent” is dislocating his shoulder as a parlor trick.


The key role at the wedding, of course, will be the best man, who according to Doug’s fanciful imagination, is a priest who’s serving in the military named Bic Mitchum. To prepare himself for the role, Jimmy spends a lot of time with Doug, starting with an all-night session in which he grills Doug on all the details of his life, and continuing with attending someone else’s wedding with Doug so he can give the future groom pointers on how to behave. As the two spend time together, they bond, each revealing intimate details of his earlier life that led him to his current situation. And, for once, it’s Jimmy who starts questioning his usual rules about cutting off contact with the groom once the wedding is over.


The script of The Wedding Ringer from director Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender resembles the traditional formula for wedding gifts, “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.” Many of the story elements are quite familiar, and the characters, like Ken Howard’s hypercritical, bigoted father-in-law, are stereotypes plucked from countless other wedding movies. However, although it won’t be mentioned come Oscar time, the screenplay manages to tweak viewers’ expectations just enough to keep things interesting. A good example is the flaming gay wedding designer with an accent that sounds like a male Charo. Later, the movie shows another side of the character that changes viewers’ perspectives entirely.


The humor in The Wedding Ringer is a mixed bag. The movie’s trailers were not promising, as most of the jokes shown were dreadful examples of Kevin Hart at his most hyper. However, for once, the trailers didn’t showcase the funniest material, in large part because much of the best material makes heavy usage of the profanity that earned the movie its R-rating. Garelick also does a good job of building one joke on top of another in some scenes, such as the disastrous meal (shown in the trailers) that results in Granny Cloris Leachman catching fire, that make the scenes much funnier.


Unfortunately, the two biggest comic set pieces in Wedding Ringer bomb badly. Doug’s bachelor party resembles a toga party held at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, culminating in a supremely unfunny bit about a dog chomping down on a certain part of Doug’s anatomy. Later, Doug and his groomsmen take on his father-in-law-to-be’s friends in a “friendly” football game that soon degenerates into a slow motion mud wrestling match. Once viewers get past the initially clever bit of casting that has former NFL greats Joe Namath and “Too Tall” Jones playing a couple of the friends, the rest of the scene, which often takes place in slow motion, seems interminable.


The one thing director Garelick does that no other director has been able to accomplish is to keep Hart in check. Wedding Ringer is, at heart, a bromance, and for a movie like this to succeed, the audiences have to like the two main characters. In Josh Gad’s case this is easy. He’s got the same schlumpy sweetness John Candy used to display, with great comic talent to boot. However, while the script humanizes Jimmy, that effort would be completely wasted unless Kevin Hart played along, which he does quite credibly. Given the chance to play a real person for a change, Hart keeps his usual persona in check. He (or Garelick) realizes that he’s part of an ensemble comedy and is willing to remain in the background when needed and allow his co-stars to carry the comedic load.


I had the lowest of expectations for The Wedding Ringer, based on a combination of my distrust of January releases in general, my antipathy towards Kevin Hart’s usual style of humor, and my apathy about the film’s central concept. I was pleasantly surprised on all counts. Make no mistake; this movie can be as jarringly bad in places as the worst January comedies of all time, such as the similarly wedding themed Bride Wars. But when it works, which is more than half the time, The Wedding Ringer plays like an acceptable knockoff of Wedding Crashers, combining a touchingly sweet bromance with an effectively crude comedy. In the end, this movie is far more successful than the wedding it portrays.

Read other reviews of The Wedding Ringer:


The Wedding Ringer (2015) on IMDb