MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES
**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jake Szymanski
STARS Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick
Mike and Dave might be the ones who end up with their names in the title of the new comedy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but it's the titanic trio of Tatiana, Alice and Jeanie who prove to be the marquee attractions.
Based on a true story (which I suppose makes it cinematic kin to Gandhi and All the President's Men more than to The Wedding Ringer and The Wedding Planner), this stars Zac Efron and Adam Devine as Dave and Mike Stangle, two brothers whose dateless status at family functions always results in the pair hitting on all available women and ruining the events with boozing, fireworks and other ill-planned shenanigans. But with their younger sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) set to marry the decent if unexciting Eric (Sam Richardson) in Hawaii, the boys' parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) lay down the law: The two may only attend if they bring respectable dates who will hopefully keep them in line. And so off they go on an advertising blitz (they settle on Craigslist to make their primary push), offering an all-expenses-paid trip to the Aloha State for two lucky ladies. The candidates pour in (including two who do nothing but giggle and one who quickly reveals her racist roots), and the chosen survivors turn out to be Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza). What Dave and Mike don't realize is that the pair aren't the nice girls they desired but two aimless party animals who conned the boys into treating them to a sun'n'sand vacation.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates takes a while to settle into its groove, as exemplified by the painful sequence (shown in the trailer) in which the siblings get each other riled up while screaming that they do not get each other riled up. Luckily, such obvious Hangover-style scenes such as this one (as well as a moment of stodgy gay panic) eventually fall by the wayside, particularly once the action moves to Hawaii. At this point, the picture really gets busy upending traditional gender roles found in these types of films, with Alice and Tatiana turning out to be braver, smarter and more in control than their increasingly hapless dates. It's a continuation of the themes explored in this summer's Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (both movies interestingly sharing scripters in Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien), but whereas that dud empowered its female characters by making them obnoxious bullies who triumphed at the expense of others, this one instead allows them to excel in more subtle ways and, importantly, make believable adjustments to their own personalities along the way.
Efron is basically forced to play straight man to all of the hijinks surrounding him, in effect serving as the Bud Abbott to Devine's Lou Costello. But it's the actresses who allow this fairly standard-issue comedy to rise above its station. Plaza's character is not unlike the one she essayed earlier this year in the awful Dirty Grandpa (also starring Efron), but because this is a meatier part, she's able to better flash her comedic chops. Kendrick is equally delightful, bringing back the spark she exhibited in the first Pitch Perfect and providing arguably the film's most knowing laugh (regarding a porn version of Ghostbusters) almost as an aside. And as the Stangle guys' little sister, a sweet kid who needs to let off ample steam (stressful, sensual, and otherwise) before she ties the knot, Beard frequently stirs memories of Goldie Hawn back in her Laugh-In days.
Certainly, let's not oversell this thing, as many of the gags are predictable and some of the developments (particularly those involving redemption) are soft-headed. But with female characters a bit more well-rounded than usual and a chance to watch three actresses excel at being comediennes, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates nicely avoids being yet one more nail in the coffin of contemporary dude-bro romps.