I’ve come to realize, sitting down to write this review, that I have a complicated cinematic relationship with Kevin Hart. While I’ve hardly liked any of his movies, he’s grown on me as a performer. He can be a bit shrill and loud at times, but when he’s given the chance to rein it in, he can honestly be charismatic on screen. It’s become less of a wonder why his film’s have become so successful even though (besides last year’s interesting but negligible About Last Night) they’re usually pretty dire. And while I better understand the man’s appeal, there’s this sense that he’s bound to have a career of purely bad movies, never given the opportunity to break through beyond anything other than mediocre odd-couple comedies.
That’s exactly what’s on hand with The Wedding Ringer, a film where Hart plays Jimmy, a man who provides professional wedding services, like pretending to be the best man to a friendless groom. In this case, he’s hired by Doug (Josh Gad, Wish I Was Here), a nerdy, lonely man on the verge of marrying the woman of his dreams (TV actress Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), but who has no groomsmen. So the fast-talking Jimmy’s paired up with the nebbish Doug and high jinks ensue.
The humor consists of a lot of slapstick and such raunchy chestnuts as Doug getting a dead dog stuck to his genitals during a bachelor party. It also comes from the Adam Sandler school of random has-been celebrity cameos (been wondering how soggy Joe Namath looks these days? Very soggy) that are generally pointless. All of this is exactly as funny as it sounds, and in some cases it’s worse, like the idea that a guy’s stutter is worthy of a running gag all by its lonesome. It’s generally puerile, but this is no shock coming from a movie with as flimsy a concept as The Wedding Ringer.
Thankfully, there is a heart to the film, though it’s not an especially surprising or convincing one — everyone learns about their true selves and grows and are all the better for it. It’s all as obvious and cheesy as it sounds, but it does give Hart a chance to play a genuinely sympathetic, well-rounded character, and he does well with it. But the imagination on display is so shallow that no amount of charisma could make The Wedding Ringer any better. At best, it gives a glimpse of his potential as a performer (as opposed to simply a box office draw) and a disappointing example of him being held back. Rated R for crude and sexual content, language throughout, some drug use and brief graphic nudity.