Wedding Crashers (2005) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, nudity, mild violence, and language
Running Time: 117 min.
Cast: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, Bradley Cooper, Isla Fisher, Christopher Walken, Jane Seymour, Jenny Alden, Keir O'Donnell
Director: David Dobkin
Screenplay: Steve Faber, Bob Fisher
The funny bone is in the arm of the beholder, and mine is certainly tickled by Wedding Crashers when it is playing as a comedy. It doesn't always try, as first-time screenwriters Steve Faber and Bob Fisher, along with director David Dobkin (he previously directed Wilson in Shanghai Knights and Vaughn in Clay Pigeons), think there needs to be a somber hangover for all of the partying the night before, mostly in the form of a budding love story between Wilson (The Life Aquatic, Starsky & Hutch) and McAdams (The Notebook, Mean Girls). The unraveling of the farce in favor of standard (and even substandard) romantic comedy material turns what could have been one of the year's most pleasant surprises into one that is hard to watch, as we can only sit in bewilderment at how such an easy goal could have been scored, only for them choke by thinking too much about not blowing it, until they can do nothing but.
I say, if the comedy is funny, it's working. There is no need for seriousness in a film like this. It comes off as disingenuous, and that is precisely what Wedding Crashers ends up being -- a completely disingenuous attempt at a meaningful, heartfelt romantic comedy that otherwise ruins what should be a great showcase of quips and irreverent charm from beginning to end.
Wilson and Vaughn (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Be Cool) star as John and Jeremy, respectively. They are divorce negotiators that, ironically, spend most of their free time engaged in crashing weddings in order to drink, carouse, and score with eligible women that are in attendance there. They don't know the people getting married, but they do perform research, choosing what personas and family members they should pretend to be related to in order that their fraud won't be suspected. They have many rules that have worked for them, and they always bail each other out, until the unthinkable finally happens -- John meets the woman he thinks might be right for him. The woman is Claire Cleary, daughter of the US Secretary of the Treasury, William (a mostly wasted Walken, Man on Fire), but she also, for all practical purposes, is engaged to the womanizing macho guy known as Sack Lodge (Cooper, My Little Eye). Meanwhile, Jeremy gets his own groove on with Claire's younger sister, Gloria (Fisher, Scooby-Doo), although her possessive ways gives him the heebee jeebies. Will John get the woman of his dreams, and what will happen if he does, and she finds out he has been faking who and what he is all along?
The set-up is near perfect, as we watch Wilson and Vaughn in top form, acting like a couple of heels and living it up, just as we like them to do in comedies. As long as they are playing it strictly for laughs, the dialogue is spot-on, and the performances are first-rate all around. Alas, comedy gold stops being mined shortly after the Cleary wedding gets underway, as the film begins to take all too familiar and predictable turns. From then on, the men don't play to their strengths. Wilson's shtick is funny when not taken seriously, but when having to deal with real emotions in real ways, his characters often come across as pathetic losers, which for a comedy that extols the virtues of male bravado, is a clear mistake. Vaughn comes off better, as his character never really loses his edge, although moments of seriousness are thrown in between the two male leads that has Vaughn in angry mode, which is also not quite justified for this kind of movie.
Without spoiling it, there comes a point in the film where the phony characters they are playing are finally exposed, as you knew they would be. This also makes the already deflating film almost intolerable, as we watch scene after scene of overwrought anguish that is neither funny nor believable. The normally solid Will Ferrell finally makes an appearance, and we welcome him with open arms, knowing that if anyone can save this from becoming a fiasco, it's good old Will. He doesn't, and in fact, the introduction of his character only makes things worse by trying to be funny when there isn't anything funny to be said or done.
When John finally makes a "hail Mary' attempt to win back the object of his desires, it occurred to me that this is a man that has done nothing that Claire should feel any love or affection for. He's a man that has, for years, been a male predator, using and losing women for his own carnal desires, and when that time comes when he finally meets one he cares about, he lies repeatedly to, even making every attempt to break up her engagement. He wallows in self-pity, becoming a real jackass, but he doesn't quite learn his lesson, as his piggish behavior continues, perhaps even worse than before. Sure, John and Claire have had their moments of fun together, but nothing even remotely worth calling love, or even strong like -- all they have is an attraction and nothing more. This is why the film absolutely does not work at the time when it should, as characters bare their souls without anyone realizing that wafer-thin characters like this have no souls. They merely exist for the moment, providing the necessary fodder for our laughter and amusement. Asking us to care one whit for them is perhaps the biggest laugh of all.
I wish I could recommend Wedding Crashers as a whole, as it does have some very funny moments, but most of those occur before the permanent derailment. The best advice I can give is to watch the first half and enjoy it for what it is, and skip out the lackluster climax and atrocious denouement. Most ribald comedies last about 90 minutes, with the creators knowing how to get in and out never really making the mistake of making things any more important than they need to be in order to score with the audience. Ironically, for a film about men that adhere to a set of rules for surefire success, the creators of Wedding Crashers ignore the rules of their own game as romantic comedy craftsmen. At a shade under two hours in length, they not only have us sitting through an extra half hour of movie where others would have already wrapped up, but to make that final 30 minutes this abominable is the real rule-breaker. It makes one wish that the clones of Wilson and Vaughn would "crash" their own movie, if only to return it to being the lively and fun escapist entertainment it should always have been from inception.
©2005 Vince Leo