Winning cast brings solid laughs to predictable picture
Back in the pre-Internet days, an old creative writing teaching technique used to be to have students read the classifieds and generate a short story based on gems they found there. Screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien obviously understand the imaginative gold of such an assignment, since, for their post-Neighbors 1 and 2 screenplay, they’ve turned an actual Craigslist ad into the decently funny picture Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Directed by TV comedy director Jake Szymanski in his first feature film foray, Mike and Dave is neither no more nor no less than what you’d expect from a raunchy-but-sweet summer comedy.
Cohen and O’Brien take their inspiration from a Craigslist ad posted back in 2013, in which real life brothers Mike and Dave Stangle, played here by Adam Devine and Zac Efron, respectively (score for Dave) actually advertised for dates for their cousin’s wedding. The screenwriters use this premise as a jumping off point, changing the bride-to-be to the brothers’ sister, Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard), and creating a backstory about just why Mike and Dave need dates in the first place. The film posits that Mike and Dave are consummate hard partying single bros who have ruined various family weddings and events with their escapades (as witnessed in a series of home video clips the brothers’ parents show them, in one of the picture’s more hilarious bits), and, as such, need to be reigned in by so-called “nice girls” who will keep them in check. The boys’ parents, Burt and Rosie, played with campy exasperation by Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy, basically tell their boys that if they don’t find a pair of polite, refined young ladies to bring to Jeanie’s Hawaii destination wedding, they will be uninvited.
It’s a somewhat ridiculous set up, sure, but one that of course lends itself perfectly to equally ridiculous antics. And so we are introduced to Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), similarly hard partying, down on their luck young women who spot the brothers on a talk show and see a chance for an all-expense paid respite from their underachieving lives. All they have to do is pretend to be the smart, well-adjusted, “nice” girls Mike and Dave need. What could possibly go wrong!?
With the plot thus established (after a painfully unrealistic meeting of the foursome that doesn’t even try to make sense), our heroes are off to Hawaii so the adventures – and the majority of the laughs – can play out. A running gag about Zac Efron’s Dave being “the good looking one” of the two brothers never gets old, and the myriad of pop culture references will easily appeal to the film’s target audience: Jurassic Park, Ninja Turtles, Rihanna, and Liam Neeson’s Taken series all get their comedic due.
The cast appoints itself gamely, which helps. Anna Kendrick is a graceful and natural comedienne, and she’s paired nicely with Plaza, who exudes a slightly more edgy quality. The two share a palpable comedic chemistry, and are utterly believable as best friends. As for the male duo, Devine (who co-starred with Kendrick in the Pitch Perfect movies) can be somewhat grating, but his annoying affectations are tempered here by Efron, who has graduated from his High School Musical days and is rapidly becoming a droll, mature leading man with a knack for physical comedy (and of course, thanks to a few forgivable plot contrivances, the writers find a way for him to be shirtless for a good chunk of the movie, which certainly doesn’t hurt the proceedings any).
In a minor role, Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani nets some of the film’s biggest laughs in a scene-stealing turn as a new-agey masseuse hired by Alice to give an unsuspecting Jeanie a, shall we say, extra special massage. It’s a tricky scene; writers Cohen and O’Brien come dangerously close to being downright icky and unfunny here, but manage to write themselves out of a potential landmine, with the help of Beard and Nanjiani. Their deft comedic timing allows the audience to breathe easier and enjoy the boundary-pushing material. Beard, too, shines as the put-upon Jeanie, and Alice Wetterlund (also of Silicon Valley) gets some choice moments as the brothers’ uber competitive Cousin Terry.
A picture like this is fairly predictable, as the audience knows going in that all mishaps and misunderstandings will no doubt be cleared up in an aw-shucks-you’re-forgiven moment sooner or later, and, on that front, the film doesn’t stray from its playbook. But there are enough laugh-out-loud one liners and genuine, head-shakingingly outrageous physical set pieces (an ATV riding scene is particularly inspired, as is an ecstasy-infused Lady Godiva moment) to make the more rote elements of the screenplay bearable. And of course, in a film like this, you must stay for the outtakes after the credits roll; they are at least as funny – if not more so – than what you’ve seen during the preceding 90 minutes.
As lightweight summer entertainment, then, Mike and Dave works just fine. Yes, it’s predictable and derivative and its screenplay is a bit lazy, but it also has its fair share of hearty laughs. Plus – Zac Efron. Shirtless. Summer’s officially here.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opens today at Bay Area theaters.