Damn you Zac Efron! Damn you for giving us the mess that is Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. An actor of frustrating promise in a career of false dawns. Not commercially of course. Many of the films Efron stars in will always make money as they play to the lowest common denominator. Either terrible comedies where he takes his shirt off or dull, romance films with all the brains and authentic emotion of a Daily Mail editorial.
Efron, did however seem to be pulling things together a few years with a trio of interesting films. Parkland, At Any Price and the divisive and decadent The Paperboy all around 2012-2013. Efron looked to be growing up. Then came an abysmal run of films almost enough to make anyone giving up writing about film to write about soap operas and reality TV instead.
This culminated in this year’s Dirty Grandpa, the runaway leader for the award of worst film of 2016 so far. Efron was not the worst thing in it by a long way. Robert De Niro waging a one-man war on his own reputation was enough to make me in the aftermath, sit alone with the blinds close and drink some bloody strong whisky for a while. Bad Neighbours 2 redeemed him somewhat with a comic performance of genuine quality and some surprisingly progressive gender politics.
Then along comes Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and we’re back at square one. Like you raggedly cat dragging in a bird that turns out not to be quite dead. Still it isn’t the worst film Zac Efron and Aubrey Plaza have appeared in this year and it the film’s defence, this was not terrible. It just left me with an overwhelming feeling of “meh” and a shrug of the shoulders.
The story is loosely based on a book which in itself is loosely based on a Craigslist ad. Two brothers Mike and Dave Stangle (Adam Devine and Zac Efron) advertise themselves for plus ones to go to their sister’s wedding at the insistence of their exasperated parents. From there, Comedy Central, sterilised wackiness ensues.
This inverted Wedding Crashers, very consciously considering how often that film is referenced, feels like something thrown together in a marketing meeting at the last-minute. An exercise in commercial box-ticking with a goofy bro (Adam Devine) cute bro (Efron) hot friend with ghetto accent (Plaza) and cute friend (Kendrick). All set to essentially the same plot as Wedding Crashers but without the budget to attract bigger stars.
Plaza gamely attempts some genuinely smart satire as a good girl, playing a bad girl pretending to be a good girl and Kendrick’s Alice at times is genuinely sympathetic. Although that is largely down to Kendrick’s genuinely likable screen presence. Unfortunately bar the odd moment where I snickered (not laughed), this film wasn’t funny. You have the standard plot: People fall in love with one side keeping a secret from the other, sanitised hilarity unfolds, secrets are revealed and we end with the inevitable romantic reconciliation but WITH A TWIST! Wow Hollywood you’re so quirky!
The formulaic and rather cynical nature of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates plot would be bearable if the film had a tight script and a firm director. Instead, we see the continued trend of actors being allowed to carry on and improvise what they believe to be funny but leaves the audience stony faced and cold, as the audience I was sat with would testify. It is a trend that needs to stop and stop now.
The general rule with comedies is that if it looks as if the actors are genuinely having bags of fun then what they deliver just isn’t very funny. Comedy, is a serious business and for it to be done well is a pretty bloody rigorous endeavour. There is an illusion that actors think they can relax into comedy. You can’t, its damn difficult to do well. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates seems to be one of those films where cast and crew have exactly that mindset. What you end up with, is an overly long comedy punctuated by a series of misfiring jokes and some crude stereotypes and the feeling you should have stayed home and watched Wedding Crashers.