‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is proof of a sad but true summer movie calculus: The impact of one truly obnoxious lead actor is often greater than the combined contributions of three talented but more nuanced costars.
The movie is sorta kinda based on a thing that happened: Two idiot brothers took to Craigslist to find dates to their sister’s wedding and the story went viral. (Does that make it the first movie based on a meme?) Here the Stangle brothers are Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron), mature in years but not in outlook. They think they’re the life of all the family gatherings, but in the genuinely funny opening sequences we see Mike and Dave’s rosy memories contrasted with a home-video litany of disaster and destruction.
Dad (an underutilized Stephen Root) has had enough and orders the two to find some nice girls to keep them on a leash for their younger sister’s upcoming Hawaii wedding. By the time their efforts land Mike and Dave on “The Wendy Williams Show,” they’ve become targets of Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), two reprobates who are failures even as Hooters waitresses but who would welcome a free trip to Honolulu if they can pass themselves off as, respectively and ridiculously, a schoolteacher and a hedge fund manager.
So far, so good. Playing the smarter and meaner of the two, Plaza gets to tap into the cruelly comic side of her persona; Tatiana is almost more toxic than this movie knows what to do with. (This despite a horrific fake tan that looks like the actress was dipped in candle wax.) Kendrick, who can do just about anything, succeeds at the harder task of getting us to buy Alice as bottomed-out in self-esteem (she was stood up at the altar), not very bright, basically sweet, and with a penchant for bad ideas like getting the bride to drop Ecstasy at the rehearsal dinner.
As Dave, comparatively brighter and more solid than his brother, Efron is cast in a straight-man role, and he aces it with low-key ease; the scenes between Dave and Alice could be spun off into their own movie, called “Dimbulbs in Love.” I’d go see that.
Unfortunately, most of the air in “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is sucked in and exhaled with a bellow by Devine (“Pitch Perfect”), an actor who believes that all you need to do to be funny is bray your lines at top volume, contort your face, and act all “silly.” Timing? Comic inspiration? Overrated. Just go for the gusto, dude.
Devine’s slackadaisical approach infects the rest of “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” which starts out amusingly enough before caving in to a forced march of “Oh no they didn’t” gags. The writers are Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, who managed in the two “Neighbors” movies to make gross-out comedy feel warm and inclusive. True to form, the euphoniously named Sugar Lyn Beard as baby sister Jeanie gets to play happily along through several bride-related catastrophes, including a full body rub from a deadpan masseuse (Kumail Nanjiani) and an incident with a flying ATV.
On the other hand, there’s a cringingly unfunny Alice Wetterlund as super-competitive cousin Terry, a lesbian — no, wait, she’s bisexual, no, wait — who’s supposed to have a Jane Lynch badass vibe going on but who is charmless in the extreme. Jeanie’s groom is played by Sam Richardson; he’s black and he’s preppie, and that’s the joke.This is the feature directing debut for Jake Szymanski (after dozens of shorts for FunnyorDie.com), and it shows: “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” lopes along with bumptious likability but no real energy, urgency, structure, or wit. And for all of Tatiana and Alice’s transgressive behavior — ooh, look, they’re as crude as guys can be — the script makes sure they’re good and tamed by the end.
Abbi and Ilana of TV’s “Broad City” would have these two for lunch.
MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES
Directed by Jake Szymanski. Written by Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien. Starring Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Devine. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 106 minutes. R (crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use, some graphic nudity).