After appearing in the Neighbors sequel earlier this year, Zac Efron continues his run in raunchy comedy with this brother-buddy film starring him and Workaholics star Adam DeVine as rambunctious siblings. Aimed squarely at the demographic who typically tune in for DeVine's hit TV series, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates features a high-wattage cast that also includes Anna Kendrick (the Pitch Perfect series) and Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), as well as accomplished character actor Stephen Root, who has demonstrated his comedic chops both in movies (Office Space) and on the small screen (NewsRadio, Brooklyn Nine-Nine). DeVine and Efron play, respectively, brothers Mike and Dave Stangle, whose hardy-partying antics and over-the-top behavior, along with their penchant for egging each other on, have caused problems at family parties for years (the Stangles are also a real-life duo, and their 2015 memoir of their high jinks serves as the loose inspiration for this film).
As the wedding of their sister (Sugar Lyn Beard) approaches, the excitable siblings are told to find dates for the destination event in Hawaii, as their parents fear that they'll shamelessly flirt with every woman in attendance if they go stag. After their /Craigslist ad asking for wedding companions goes viral, they are invited onto a daytime talk show in order to find nice, responsible gals to take as guests -- an appearance that is seen by slackers and BFFs Tatiana (Plaza) and Alice (Kendrick). Eager for a free trip to Hawaii (and a fresh start for Alice after she was dumped at the altar), the two arrange a "chance meeting" with the guys, and then charm the doofuses by acting sophisticated. Once the plane lands in Hawaii, however, all bets are off, as the mischievous ladies revert back to their old habits and default recklessness. As the brothers' frustrations build, the bickering among the foursome threatens to ruin the entire wedding.
The film boasts an impressive collection of talent, from director Jake Szymanski (who recently helmed the HBO tennis mockumentary 7 Days in Hell) to a supporting cast stacked with standout comedians (including Mary Holland, Kumail Nanjiani, Alice Wetterlund, and terrific straight man Sam Richardson) to cameo appearances from Jake Johnson, Marc Maron, and Workaholics alum Erik Griffin. All of the pieces are here for a well-executed, lowbrow comedy gem, and the first few scenes do not disappoint. Just try not to laugh when home videos of Mike and Dave's past debauchery are played for the brothers (the sequence features superb work from editors Lee Haxall and Jon Schwartz), or when Plaza and Kendrick attempt to outsmart an exasperated cabbie. Unfortunately, the movie begins to miss the mark when it tries to think bigger, mistaking dumb tropes and frantic screaming for original ideas. It's almost as if the filmmakers sketched out a general sense of the story, then told the actors to just wing it while encouraging them to "go bigger."
As a result, the cast's solid work is often overshadowed by clunky, inauthentic gags. Screenwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien either aren't fans of subtext, or they aren't familiar with the concept, because we are constantly beaten over the head with certain plot points (Alice feels like she's damaged goods, Dave has it more together than Mike, Mr. Stangle thinks more highly of one of his sons) and dopey confessional moments. Nothing here seems based on how people actually interact, or handle problems, or react to embarrassment or disaster; instead, the proceedings devolve into a who-can-make-the funniest-face contest.
The biggest casualty is DeVine, who is capable of playing complex, fully realized characters (his guest stints on Modern Family being a prime example), but can only vacillate between angry and flustered here. His gradual character arc feels like it's geared toward preteens rather than adult viewers, as almost all of his scenes feature him constantly shrieking in anger and/or fear. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates has an interesting setup, and there are some belly laughs to be found amid the dross. But with the level of talent involved, audiences should rightly expect more than just a below-average comedy.