“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.
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)