Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Wedding Crashers

Every director must want to work with Vince Vaughn. The guy makes everything else about the job so effortless. Take a movie like the upcoming Wedding Crashers. It's functionally brain-dead. It opens with a semi-clever idea: two guys regularly crash weddings in order to eat for free and meet attractive, available women in a romantic mood. And then the guys go to a high-class wedding, and one of them winds up meeting a girl he genuinely likes.

Once you hear that premise, you know where the rest of the film will go, and Wedding Crashers never once goes anywhere surprising. On top of that, the script by Steve Faber and Bob Fisher doesn't bother to include a single innovation. All the characters are broad caricatures based on familiar sitcom "types" - there's the misunderstood gay artist son, the tough but loving father, the foul-mouthed granny, the disaffected alcoholic trophy wife and the macho, chauvanist blueblood boyfriend. Sigh.

So, basically, Vince Vaughn and (to a lesser extent) Owen Wilson come in and entirely save the day. This is a movie that has no business working, but work it does because of the tremendous improvisational skill and likability of its two leads. I have very little respect for Wedding Crashers as a film, but I can't deny that the thing is pretty damn funny.

Vaughn and Wilson play a pair of lawyer best friends who spend their weekend attending wedding reception after wedding reception. They have based their life on the teachings of the mysterious Chaz, a legend in the wedding crash industry who we meet in a late-in-the-film cameo I won't spoil.

As a final challenge, they crash the wedding of the Secretary of the Treasury (Christopher Walken, horribly and shamefully wasted, in the films dullest role). It's there that things get predictably complicated - Wilson flirts and becomes obsessed with Walken's older daughter Claire (recent MTV Award recipient Rachel McAdams) while Vaughn quickly beds Walken's virginal youngest daughter Christina (Jennifer Alden). And the foursome winds up after the wedding spending the weekend at Walken's seaside estate as his guests.

And that's about it as far as plot goes. This isn't a movie about anything so much as churning as many laughs as possible out of its Meet the Parents meets Old School scenario. With another pair of actors, it would be deathly dull. With Wilson and Vaugh, it's still mighty creaky at parts. An extended football scene feels particularly Meet the Parents derivative, while other jokes - such as Wilson's flirtation with Walken's boozy wife, played by Jane Seymour - fall completely flat.

But when the material merely provides a background for Vaughn's spastic, improvisational style, the whole movie takes flight. This is a tremendously physical performance from Vaughn, probably his most slapsticky to date, and he handles it beautifully. The guy is just funny to watch - one scene in which Christina fondles his package under the table during a family dinner got a particularly large laugh, but there's a lot of great, smaller moments as well.

That scene highlights the best feature of Wedding Crashers - its raunch. This is an adult comedy, which makes sense, as the entire concept is based around two perverts trying to hook up with as many girls as possible. Typically, even sex comedies have to be rated PG-13 these days (one need only look at Meet the Fockers for an example of a raunchy sex comedy awkwardly shoehorned into a PG-13 family romp). Here is a movie that's unabashedly bawdy. Not dirty, neccessarily - there's nothing I think a mature 15 year old couldn't handle. It's just nice to see an R rated comedy with some gratuitous nudity, swear words and dick jokes for a change.

If the filmmakers had been as daring with the narrative as they were with the sexually frank material, maybe the entire enterprise would work better. As is, the film runs out of steam towards the end, limping towards its inevitable happy conclusion. After the film has played so fast and loose with character development (and rightfully so in such a silly comedy), why even try for a half-hour of pathos at the end? One or two scenes would translate the film's thematic "message" much better than the endless dialogues about the nature of true love that fill the movie's final act.

The Wedding Crashers is by no means a good movie. But it's a funny one that's far above-average in terms of entertainment value. Which really, from a summer comedy, is about all you can expect.

No comments: