Friday, July 8, 2016

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates: This film needs an intervention

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) • View trailer 
Two stars. Rated R, for nudity, crude sexual content, drug use and relentless profanity

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.8.16

Strip the profanity away, and the rest of this script could be printed on a postage stamp.

Indeed, it’s rather audacious of Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien to claim credit for writing this flimsy excuse for a screenplay; most of what landed on the screen seems to be improvised. On the spot. While everybody in question was under the influence of intelligence-altering substances.

After realizing that their "respectable" dates are anything but, Dave (Zac Efron, far right)
and Mike (Adam Devine) agree to a truce with Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza, far left) and Alice
(Anna Kendrick). Whether this quartet can repair two days' worth of damage, however, is
an entirely different matter...
The oh-so-hilarious (not!) “outtakes” included, during the end credits, certainly suggest as much.

Sadly — for those of us forced to endure the results — these folks are far, far removed from the likes of lightning-quick improv talents. Sputtering and flailing through a relentless stream of F-bombs and vulgar euphemisms is hardly the height of comedy; it simply smacks of clueless desperation. It’s actually rather painful, particularly when we know full well that these actors are capable of much better.

In fairness, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is occasionally funny, in spite of itself. And it’s rescued from total turkeydom by the effervescent work of Anna Kendrick, who repeatedly rises above the thin material. She puts some actual ability and effort into her performance, in stark contrast to all the others, who mostly swan about and pose for the camera, like 10-year-old show-offs.

Honestly, it’s surprising they don’t all scream “Look at me! Look at me!”

The story, such as it is:

Hard-partying brothers Mike and Dave Stangle (Adam Devine and Zac Efron) have ruined too many previous family gatherings, mostly because they always come stag, get drunk and try to pick up available women. Thus, when younger sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) announces her impending dream wedding in Hawaii, their parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) lay down fresh ground rules: Mike and Dave can attend only if they bring dates. Respectable dates.

The theory being, well-behaved companions will keep the boys in line.

Not having the faintest idea how to find such women, Mike and Dave resort to the go-to 21st solution: They advertise on Craigslist. (This much actually happened, in real life, in February 2013; check YouTube to see the actual Stangle brothers being interviewed.)

The ad goes viral, eventually catching the attention of Alice (Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), a pair of dim-bulb, potty-mouthed, habitually wasted skanks with an unjustified sense of entitlement. They also dress like homeless derelicts, so when the relevant portion of the boys’ ad penetrates their hazed minds — Hawaiian vacation! — the gals “clean up” in the only way possible, by stealing a bunch of nice clothes. And bathing.

Mike and Dave, meanwhile, are having no luck with their date interviews, during a reasonably funny montage that involves weird women, paranoid women, militant women, giggling women and a host of others. The newly transformed Tatiana and Alice therefore are a breath of fresh air, the former in her guise as a school teacher, the latter with a career in “hedge funds.”

Presto: Mike and Dave have dates.

The ruse works, if only briefly. Jeanie bonds with her new gal pals, because they’re so much more fun than her overbearing, anal-retentive maid of honor, Becky (Mary Holland). Even Jeanie’s fiancé, Eric (Sam Richardson), seems satisfied.

But it doesn’t take long for Tatiana and Alice to shed their thin veneer of respectability; the irony is that these increased glimpses of their actual selves shocks ... shocks ... shocks Mike and Dave, who’ve rilly, rilly been trying to behave. Subsequent mishaps involve ATVs, horses, Ecstasy, lots of alcohol, a particularly intimate massage — a small but well-played bit by Kumail Nanjiani, as the masseur — and Mike’s ongoing conflict with his competitive cousin Terry (Alice Wutterland), an aggressive lesbian who finds Tatiana yummy.

Which rather buzz-kills Mike’s similar desires.

Some of the contrivances and sight gags work; others fall flat. The aforementioned massage session is hilarious; pretty much everything concerning Terry feels forced and desperate, and her final scenes, at the end, are the epitome of clumsy writing and acting.

Actually, the latter term is inappropriate. Plaza, Efron and particularly Devine deliver the modern equivalent of Three Stooges mugging, often flapping their arms like ungainly birds attempting a take-off. I can’t imagine what director Jake Szymanski did each day, beyond pointing the camera and yelling “Action.” But, then, his career thus far is mostly video shorts and TV sketches, so the notion of sustaining a 98-minute feature may have overwhelmed the poor lad.

But I did say “almost.”

Kendrick, alone among her fellow cast members, turns Alice into an actual person. Granted, she’s every bit as crude and profane as Tatiana, but there’s a palpable sense that Alice behaves this way out of desperation and insecurity (as opposed to Plaza, who never escapes her own real-world persona).

Alice has a heart; she also has a moral center, even if she works hard to bury it. But that’s the point: Kendrick turns that struggle into a credible emotional conflict. Having once been left at the altar, Alice is sensitive about the whole wedding thing, and therefore eager to “help” Jeanie overcome her anxieties. If Alice’s efforts at assistance invariably go awry, that just makes her more determined: a blossoming display of altruism that Kendrick sells persuasively.

She also makes Efron a more palatable presence, in their shared scenes; he becomes almost bearable. Alice and Dave quickly bond, and — unlike Tatiana and Mike — they’re willing to explore this mutual attraction. With Kendrick, Efron’s Dave also develops something approaching a recognizable personality.

But then the brothers get together again, and they revert to 10-year-old brats. Honestly, they don’t look smart enough to tie their own shoes. (I’ll bet they rely on Velcro.)

Dim-bulb stupidity is nothing new in Hollywood, with numbnuts behavior dating back to Laurel & Hardy, the Keystone Kops, the Marx Brothers and countless others. And yet there’s a difference: Our modern practitioners — Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Zach Galifianakis, the Dumb & Dumber duo, and so many more — are childish cretins. There’s no art to their so-called humor; it’s the sniggering, lowest-common-denominator conduct of naughty little boys who think bad words are the height of humor.

They aren’t. And it’s tedious.

Granted, I’m not the target audience for the likes of Mike and Dave. But I’m also not reflexively opposed to smutty moron comedies, having thoroughly enjoyed Superbad, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Bridesmaids and quite a few others. My beef is with actors, writers and directors who don’t try very hard, and who set the bar so low; viewers deserve better for their hard-earned cash.

Kendrick is the only one trying here. And in a cast of roughly a dozen significant characters, that’s not a very impressive ratio.

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