Sometimes a movie seems as if it was more fun to make than it is to watch. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is one of those movies.
Zac Efron and Adam DeVine are Dave and Mike Stangle, two troublemaking brothers with a knack for walking the tightrope of party-makers/-breakers. With their little sis Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) getting hitched in Hawaii to Eric (Sam Richardson), their parents (Stephanie Faracy and Stephen Root) demand the bros bring wedding dates to keep the fireworks-laden chaos at bay. After a short, public and anticlimactic search, they select Alice and Tatiana (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza), two “strong, independent women” (read: hot messes), to be their plus-ones.
Alice reels from being left at the altar — a scene she’s got on video and watches over and over for some reason — and Tatiana’s a high-functioning alcoholic who dons an accent like she’s been studying up on J.Lo interviews from when she was still on the block. The two are master enablers, a shoplifting, unshowered “you do you” pair who try to be “good girls” for the guys — but obviously fail.
Alice is the better-drawn of the two, perhaps because she’s given a past and fears and tics that she’ll inevitably run headfirst into or act on, while Tatiana’s just crude and … there. It’s not for lack of trying or talent with these two; when they’re given time to connect with one another, relax and get past the jokes on the page, there’s some magic. Kendrick is especially strange. When she attempts to explain hedge funds to the guys to convince them she’s not an unemployed wreck, she nonsensically scats buzzwords, from Fannie Mae to Bernie Mac, her doe eyes selling the dumbfounded naivete. When Tatiana briefs Alice on how to devise her good-girl character, she asks, “What do you like to do?” No hesitation: “Drink.” But too often the jokes are low-hanging fruit divorced from the situations in which these characters find themselves.
The same can be said for Dave and Mike. Efron and DeVine are like brothers from another mother, with DeVine doing his characteristic over-the-top, short-fuse humor and Efron mimicking the energy. As in his well-deserved hit Neighbors 2 earlier this year, Efron is at his best when playing the dumb-but-good-hearted type, convincingly shocked and stupefied (not to mention gullible) when Alice tells him her ex-fiancé died of both cancer and AIDS before dying a third time in a plane crash. His straight(er)-man shtick provides a much-needed counterbalance to DeVine's ADHD, but about half the time these two are onscreen together, they’re advancing the plot with perfunctory, hamstrung comedy that has to get from point A to point B, ignoring some esoteric riffing moments we get to see in the blooper reel at the end that could have spiraled the whole thing into some out-there fun.
One of those cut scenes has Dave and Mike crying, coming to terms with what shitty, selfish people they are, and the spirit of his own words so moves Mike that he salutes and starts singing the National Anthem with tears in his eyes. Yeah, sure, we’re not supposed to talk about the blooper reel because it didn’t make the final cut, but maybe don’t show us all the weird good stuff at the end to remind us of what could have been.
Throughout, it seems as though the writers (Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien of the Neighbors franchise) are out of their depth with so many characters and so much story to get through — this is a long destination wedding. The pacing is out of whack, plodding in some spots and not lingering long enough on the crescendo when the quartet of misfits finally realize who they are and act on it. There’s some cookie-cutter rom-com writing and direction going on (a lot less com than uninspired rom), especially in scenes between Dave and Alice. You have to wonder if the studio steered them on a more traditional path, but no matter who made the final decision, it wasn’t a good one.
It might be unfair to judge this film against Neighbors or Neighbors 2, but it’s difficult not to when those two movies form the bulk of these writers’ careers. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have the same seasoned feature director (Nicholas Stoller) at the helm on Mike and Dave, nor a master cinematographer (Brandon Trost) to really distinguish the look and heighten the scenes. Director Jake Szymanski is a veteran with short-form content, but he’s a little out of his league at feature length, unable to hold all the threads together long enough to tie off the ends.
Szymanski gets a few good performances, but his supporting cast — which includes Root, Richardson, Kumail Nanjiani, Jake Johnson, Marc Maron and Erik Griffin — just isn’t made use of beyond Alice Wetterlund, who’s got a great few lines as Cousin Terry, a bisexual one-upper who, as helpfully pointed out by Mike, looks like if Don Johnson fucked Zack Morris. Unfortunately, Mike and Dave probably will be known for what it could have been more than what it is: a marriage of talents that can’t make it past the honeymoon.