Back in 2013, real-life brothers Mike and Dave Stangle faced the prospect of finding dates to their cousin’s wedding, eventually deciding that the most effective option was to place an ad on Craigslist. With a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and a memorable image featuring their faces Photoshopped onto the bodies of centaurs, the ad went viral, ultimately resulting in TV appearances and even a book deal. Benefitting from an enormously likeable cast, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is the enthusiastically foul-mouthed movie based loosely (very loosely) on their story.
Zac Efron and Adam DeVine play Dave and Mike, two fun-loving, wild and crazy guys who specialize in bringing raucous fun to any social engagement. At least, that’s how they see it. However, home videos from Stangle family gatherings throughout the years provide evidence that’s not entirely true: the brothers are screw-ups, and their boisterous behavior – however well-intentioned – typically ends in disaster.
Hoping to prevent another catastrophe, their parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) demand that Mike and Dave bring dates to the upcoming Hawaii destination wedding of their younger sister, Jeanie (a very game Sugar Lyn Beard). The idea being that worrying about their dates will keep them in line and leave them less opportunity to get into any trouble.
The brothers meet their match in Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), two party girls who happen to catch one of Mike and Dave’s TV appearances and see an opportunity to con their way into an all-expenses-paid resort vacation. The (slightly) sweeter of the two, Alice is still nursing her wounds after being jilted at the altar, and Tatiana decides that a trip to Hawaii is exactly the thing to help get her groove back. All they have to do is appear to be nice, respectable girls.
Alice impulsively claims to be a hedge-fund manager (despite having no idea what that means), while breaking out a pair of librarian glasses and a No. 2 pencil is all it takes Tatiana to convince Mike that she’s a sweet-natured schoolteacher. The girls seem perfect, and just like that, the boys have found their dates. Raunchy hijinks ensue.
The first feature from director Jake Szymanski, who made a name for himself with digital shorts on “Funny or Die” and HBO, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is at its root another in a long line of comedies about twentysomething bros who learn that it’s time to grow up and take their first shaky steps toward maturity. Szymanski opts for the improv-heavy approach of most modern comedies, where the methodology is clearly “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.” And while some of the jokes don’t land, many are very funny. It’s certainly better than the last movie to co-star Efron and Plaza, January’s “Dirty Grandpa,” still a leading contender for the worst film of the year.
Over the recent years, Efron has blossomed into an appealing comedic lead. Here he’s mostly tasked with the straight-man role, but his more subdued performance provides a nice counterbalance to DeVine’s manic energy. Mike’s self-deprecating nature kept DeVine’s rubber-faced mugging from tipping over into obnoxiousness, though your mileage may vary.
The four leads have great chemistry, but while Efron and DeVine’s characters get title billing, it’s Alice and Tatiana who are the film’s true stars. Plaza and Kendrick get all the best lines and gags, and the two immensely appealing actresses make the most of it. Plaza continues to prove her comedic range, working to distinguish herself from her role as the deadpan misanthrope April Ludgate on the wonderful “Parks and Recreation,” and Kendrick is delightful as always. I’d watch 10 more movies that team her and Plaza together.
Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien’s script combats the bro comedy somewhat by indulging in the idea that women can be just as raunchy as the men. Even Sugar Lyn Beard’s Jeanie gets to revel in the filth, thankfully sparing us the cliché of the shrewish bride character. This isn’t to say that “Mike and Dave” is interested in moralizing. The subversive “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” (also written by Cohen and O’Brien) showed that injecting a message doesn’t preclude the possibility of also being hilarious, but hardly anyone went to see “Neighbors 2,” so maybe audiences haven’t quite signed on for that yet. Still, even when the material isn’t exactly groundbreaking, this equal-opportunity trend is one I’m happy to see continue.