By: 3-Deep (Three Beers) –
Dave and Mike Stangle’s 2015 comedy book, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates: And a Thousand Cocktails, is a mixed bag. Not quite an autobiography, yet (a little) more than just a collection of essays and life experiences, it’s a disjointed effort filled with various bar stories — some funny, some exaggerated, but all mixed with cocky platitudes on life that occasionally verge into mansplaining territory. Comparisons to Tucker Max’s wild-and-out best-sellers, namely I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, are justified. After all, Max is clearly a heavy influence on the Stangles. The well-read, all-American frat boys-at-heart veer somewhere between modern-day romantics and a semblance of old-school masculinity. There as quick to charm as they’re quick to irritate. But man, when these guys are funny, they’re pretty hilarious.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, the loose film adaptation of their book, falls under a similar fate.
Just like the book, it follows Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron), two party-hardy underachieving New Yorkers in their late-20s grinding their way through adulthood so they can celebrate on the weekends. Unlike their real-life inspirations, on-screen Mike and Dave are alcohol-selling entrepreneurs, trying to get their own label off the ground and live the American dream. Whenever there’s a family gathering, they’re always the ones that get the party started… and also the ones that send it all to Hell. They’ve been known to ruin several Stangle social outings, and their parents (Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy) are not going to have it this year. Their daughter/Mike and Dave’s younger sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) is getting eloped in Hawaii in a matter of weeks, and if things are going to go according to plan, these brothers will need to shape up and get themselves some wedding dates.
Naturally, Mike and Dave initially refuse, but they eventually agree for Jeanie’s sake. But where oh where can two young, attractive, fit young boys find themselves some dates in the middle of New York City? How about Tinder, or eHarmony? Nah, let’s try Craigslist. After all, it got Dave a pretty nice couch. Surely it can also get these strapping young men the nice, respectable ladies they need too? Figuring their post won’t attract much attention, they soon become viral overnight celebrities, attracting the attention of several suitors around the area. But here’s the problem: they’re all crazy. And that’s referring to the nice ones.
This is where the book and Jake Szymanski’s (HBO’s 7 Days in Hell) first theatrical film begin to separate. On the outskirts of town, similarly unmotivated Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick) are working their way through low-paying waitress jobs when they discover Mike and Dave promoting their plea on Wendy Williams’ show. Hoping to score a trip to Hawaii, especially with Alice still distressed from her fiancé leaving her on the alter a few months back, they clean themselves up, scope out Mike and Dave at their favorite bar and work their magic on these gullible young suitors. Their scheme works, and soon the four of them are on a plane straight to their destination wedding. But as the next three days commence, it gets harder for Alice and Tatiana to contain their inner bad girls, while Dave and Mike unwillingly bring out their competitive spirit. Comedic hijinks ensue.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates has a screenplay written by Andrew Jay Cohen & Brendan O’Brien, the writers behind Neighbors. That makes sense. Much like that 2014 film, Szymanski’s film is humorous, but in a waning sorta way. It grows less and less amusing as it goes along, simply due to its repetition and one-note premise. But they’re saved, once again, by their cast, which is never less than game with the material. Each performer is given their time to shine, and each owns up to it. Well, at least as well as they can. Even as the film grows exhausting, there’s still a spark in their eyes that’s affirming. I was looking forward to this one largely due to the talent of the ensemble (give or take DeVine), and they only rarely disappoint together.
Their characters often appear thin and flat on the surface, but Cohen and O’Brien’s writing suggest these characters are often smarter and more intuitive than they look or act. That shines throughout the performances as well. Nobody does a particularly bad job here; even the typically unbearable DeVine is more tolerable than usual. But for my money, Aubrey Plaza is the MVP of the ensemble. Ready to strip away her April Ludgate persona for good now that Parks and Recreation is strictly in syndication, she gamely goes balls-deep into the outrageousness at her disposal, all while being afforded the opportunities she wasn’t given in January’s undermining Dirty Grandpa. Plaza establishes herself as a raunchy comedy force of reckoning, just as she did in the under-appreciated The To-Do List, and hopefully, as her profile builds, Hollywood will act accordingly. Additionally, Kendrick is noteworthy as always, and Efron holds his own. Also, Root is exceptional as usual. He never gets enough credit, and that’s a shame. So here’s your shout out, Mr. Root! Keep up the good work.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates almost desperately wants to become Wedding Crashers for the next generation. There’s even a brief subplot centered around the 2005 raunchy comedy. And while the cast does have strong chemistry with one another, they don’t quite rise to the levels of David Dobkin’s surprise hit — which, admittedly, wasn’t all that amazing to begin with. It’s wasn’t terrible, mind you; it just wasn’t a comedy classic. But at any rate, it’s oddly appropriate for Mike and Dave to emulate its ’00s peer, since it often comes across like something ripped directly from that decade — and not in a good way. Jokes directed towards lesbians, crossdressers, and women in general are often uncomfortably dated and near-sighted in their approach. While Szymanski’s film does have some self-awareness about itself, and it becomes a little progressive towards the end, it often doesn’t pick up on its broader insensitivity, which turns a lot of its comedy sour.
Szymanski leans heavily on the improv, and that helps as much as it hurts. Even though it’s only 98 minutes long, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates often feels lopsided and stretched out. There are scenes —sometimes even whole takes — that go on far longer than they should, and they kill the rhythm of some crucial moments. Additionally, the dramatic sequences come with a blunt force, and they don’t gel gracefully into the comedy whatsoever. I’ll cut them some slack since there are some solid laughs, but I can’t let it slide either. There’s never any real consistency to the film, especially when it comes to character, and that’s what ultimately keeps it from really going the distance.
Plaza and Kendrick, as real-life BFFs, fair better than Efron and DeVine. The latter often look like they’re still getting to know each other throughout the production. The girls amplify their scenes will enough infectious chemistry with one another to make their scenes worthwhile, which often helps the general dudeness of Efron and DeVine’s brotherly love relationship work better. But no matter how much good they can do both together and on their own, they can help but feel a little under-directed throughout.
The characters often change their personality on a dime, and Tatiana and Alice do such a poor job disguising their intents after a point that it kills any sense of stakes. I’ll blame this on over-editing as much as I will on a firm lack of vision for this story. That said, I do believe it ultimately comes down to Szymanski not quite knowing what to do with his first full-length film. He wants the best for each scene, comedy-wise, but it often sacrifices their values or motivations in order for this to happen. This is a common problem in comedy today, but one that’s more apparent, and more annoying, here, especially with the potential brought to the table. The jokes often start-and-stall, making it rather bumpy in its approach, and it lacks a firm plot to make up for that. After a point, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates boggles down to a generic R-rated rom-com. And that’s fine; it just makes it a little lackluster. But hey, that’s 2016 in a nutshell.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is not a great comedy. I’m still not quite sold on it being a good comedy either. But in a summer — hell, a year — filled with comedy misfires left-and-right, it’s much breezier and ultimately more enjoyable, agreeable, and chuckle-worthy than its competition. Its greatest accomplishment is balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm and energy for every joke, whether good, bad or somewhere in-between. Plaza, Efron, Kendrick and even DeVine make the thin material work as best as they can, and even if the results are a little uneven, there’s quite possibly just enough worthwhile here to make you not regret seeking it out. It’s not the kind of comedy you commit to memory, but you’ll probably enjoy yourself well enough. Though, you’d probably have a better time hanging with the real Stangles. Those guys know how to party.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time someone fucks up.
Take a Drink: every time someone drinks on-screen.
Take a Drink: every time you’re reminded of Wedding Crashers, intentionally or not.
Do a Shot: whenever the real Stangle brothers pop up on screen (if you spot them).
Take Drink: whenever you wish these actors were given better material.
Take a Drink: anytime the shit hits the fan.
Take a Drink: for every rom-com cliche.