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Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates — and a funnier movie

An occasionally funny, occasionally saggy vacation/romantic comedy is done in by too much improv

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine, and Zac Efron have wacky good fun in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.
20th Century Fox
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, a new comedy about two men who need wedding dates, seems to have everything going for it.



Its winning ensemble cast includes proven comedic performers across two generations. Its raunchy spirit is equal opportunity, allowing both genders to get in on the pot-smoking, dirty joke-making fun. And it boasts an actual story, with characters who have clear emotional stakes.

The film, based on a semi-famous Craigslist ad from 2013, of all things, follows two guys (Adam Devine and Zac Efron) who post an ad seeking respectable women to accompany them to their sister’s wedding in Hawaii, then are scammed by two opportunistic young women (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza) who just want a vacation. Once they get to Hawaii, the film turns into an occasionally amusing blend of vacation comedy and romantic comedy.

And yet it never finds a groove. Funny scenes are followed by scenes where nothing funny happens. Whatever story the film is trying to tell is frequently shelved for long, pointless sequences that have little to do with anything.

The result is that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates feels formless, and if you stick around for the credits, you’ll realize why.

Improv comedy must be stopped

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Would wear.
20th Century Fox

As the credits roll, a gag reel plays, featuring several humorous outtakes. These outtakes are frequently much funnier than what’s in the movie.

But they’re also illustrative of how the movie was (most likely) made. The cast is granted several opportunities to improvise different jokes, and because said cast features comic experts like Devine and Plaza, said jokes are often ridiculously funny. You can see why the filmmakers had trouble choosing just one to include in the final cut.

But this "insert joke here" approach to screenwriting — where what’s written on the page is just a suggestion for others to vamp around later — can be incredibly dangerous.

At its best, it results in jokes that feel totally spontaneous and unlike anything else. But at its worst, it leads to bulky scenes that get bogged down in quips and zingers that fail to provide any character or story development because they were spit out in the moment.

And that’s fine in an individual scene or a comedic sketch or even a half-hour episode of television. But in a movie that runs over 90 minutes long, essentially all of the jokes have to kill, and the improv approach makes that objective impossibly hard to achieve.

To be fair, not all of Mike and Dave’s flaws stem from its use of improv. There are also long sequences that mostly seem to exist to kill time — like a lot of footage of the cast riding around various Hawaiian locations on ATVs — and the film mostly wastes incredibly talented actors like Stephen Root (who plays the guys’ dad and gets to be a humorless scold and... not a lot else).

And plenty of scenes have lots of energy but lack laughs. The film gives everybody a character to play — Kendrick’s Alice has PTSD stemming from her own failed wedding (she was left at the altar), while Efron’s Dave is feeling held back by his brother — but it also doesn’t give them any shading beyond those very simplistic descriptions.

Certainly, if you’re just looking for a couple hours’ worth of distraction involving fun actors hanging out in a gorgeous setting, Mike and Dave might fit the bill. And it does contain some funny bits here and there, mostly stemming from Plaza’s loose interpretation of what it means to be a good friend.

But it’s not hard to feel like the movie is as laid-back as a vacation where you never leave your hotel. There are worse ways to spend your time, but you don’t really get anywhere.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is playing in theaters around the country. Anna Kendrick is a terrific performer, but boy, is she not an improv comedian.