“The Wedding Ringer” is “Wedding Crashers Redux,” a “Hangover Lite” that softens manic funnyman Kevin Hart’s persona into someone almost as funny, but more sentimental than abrasive. That helps “Ringer” work as a bromantic comedy that feels like a romantic comedy.
Like “Crashers,” it’s built on a killer conceit. It’s about a guy who hires himself out as a rent-a-best man. Jimmy Callahan (Hart) rescues grooms who have failed to create and hang onto long-term friendships.
First-time feature director and co-writer Jeremy Garelick flips through scenes of Jimmy wearing a yarmulke or a wig, the life of the party at weddings of all races and genders. He does his homework and gives a tender, moving wedding reception toast. Occasionally, a client is so overcome he suggests they pal around afterword. But Jimmy keeps his distance.
Enter sad sack Doug, played by Josh Gad (“Jobs,” Frozen”) in a breakout role. Doug is about to marry the bombshell Gretchen (Kaley Cuouco-Sweeting of “The Big Bang Theory”). Doug knows how lucky he is, but he’s so hapless he doesn’t just need a best man, he needs a team of groomsmen – groomsmen named for assorted famous athletes, the only names Doug could think of when grilled by Gretchen about his half of the wedding party.
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And he’s rich enough to afford “The Golden Tux” – that’s Jimmy’s full service treatment. Jimmy proceeds to hire a motley crew that includes a stammering stripper, an ex-con, a TSA agent (Affion Crockett) and a Roto-Rooter man (Jorge Garcia). Jimmy coaches one and all about Doug and his background, stages fake boy-bonding photos and teaches tricks for avoiding awkward conversations that will give away their con.
Hart cranks up his R-rated bug-eyed comic bark a few times. He amps up the energy and makes Gad, a funny guy, funnier.
So there’s not much new here. But a savvy, sassy script, smart casting and genuine “I feel sorry for this white boy” chemistry between Hart and Gad make “Wedding Ringer” an R-rated bromance that will touch you as often as it tickles you.
THE WEDDING RINGER
Cast: Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Ken Howard, Olivia Thirlby, Cloris Leachman
Director: Jeremy Garelick
Rated R (language)