“Are we gonna get hopped enough to make some bad decisions?” This is the driving question for John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn), divorce mediators by trade, wedding crashers by avocation. Once the “season” begins, they’re off and running, or rather, drinking, dancing, and bedding every pretty girl they can entice for a one night stand. Cocky and careless, John and Jeremy are so used to lying to everyone that they occasionally confuse their stories: are they venture capitalists? War veterans? New York Yankees? It hardly matters. A little bubbly, some eager cake-cutting, earnest toasting, and energetic picture-posing, and they’re good to go again. On mornings after, they meet on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to compare notes, exhausted, hung-over, and trying so hard to stay smug.
This would be the premise of David Dobkin’s Wedding Crashers. Described as the return of R-rated jokes, the film has been applauded for sailing against the PG-13 tide. While this praise might overlook the fact that PG-13 is by now awfully close to what R was back in the hair gel gag days, it also assumes that R designates “maturity.” In fact, as demonstrated throughout this self-congratulatory good-times movie, it just means more room for explicit language, sexual situations, and adolescent humor. That John and Jeremy are headed toward revelation and emotional growth only puts a neat little narrative cap on their cavorting. The point here is not that they fall in love, which they do, but that hey do so in the most awkward, obnoxious, predictable way possible: Old School meets Meet the Parents.
The parents part comes after John meets the girl of his dreams, unexpectedly, when they crash a ginormous season-climaxing ceremony. Here John espies the bride’s sister, lovely Claire (Rachel McAdams), from across the room, and can’t take no for an answer. Much as in the Ben Stiller version of this movie, the father who needs to be impressed is powerful and intimidating, in this case, Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken). John quotes some position paper Cleary’s written on Indonesia and finds himself invited outside for stogies. At about the same time, he’s also singled out by the wife, Kathleen (Jane Seymour), who informs him that she and the Secretary have not been faithful to each other for 28 years. And after all this work, John discovers that Claire’s engaged to a wealthy bully named Sack (Bradley Cooper).
Undeterred, John finagles an invitation to the Cleary compound for the weekend, where Jeremy is beset by the other, considerably randier sister, Gloria (Isla Fisher). Following what he thinks will be their single sexual encounter, she announces, “I always knew my first time would be on the beach!” Mr. Womanizer believes this, looks aghast, then does his best to escape her clutches (as he puts it, “She’s really off the reservation”) — until John beseeches him to come along for the weekend, pretty please.
Sack (who plays the more manic, much meaner version of the character Owen Wilson played in Meet the Parents) immediately sets about showing up John and Jeremy (posing as brothers for this outing), flat-out clobbering Jeremy on the touch football field, trying to outsmart John during dinner table conversation; this even as Gloria jerks off Jeremy under the table (“I don’t have any bodily fluids left in me”) and Grandma Mary (Ellen Albertini Dow) decries “dykes” and “homos,” in particular Claire and Gloria’s brother Todd (Keir O’Donnell, whose performance plunks down somewhere between Crispin Glover and Ben the rat). Later that night, Todd decides to pledge his own love to Jeremy (with whom he swears he “had a moment” at dinner), arriving in his bedroom after Gloria has already left him tied him to the bedposts.
The commotion is familiar, mostly feeble, vaguely raunchy, as John and Jeremy find themselves in unsurprisingly sexed-up situations. They go sailing, quail-hunting, and biking. They try not to look like “a couple of pussies.” William threatens Jeremy not to consider Gloria another “notch on your belt” (“I’m beltless,” he protests, weakly); John is horrified but goes along when Kathleen make him “feel her hooters”; Gloria’s middle-of-the-night bondage scene makes Jeremy feel “like Jodie Foster in The Accused“; and eventually, a drunken Jeremy confesses his growing affection for Gloria to Father Gibson (Henry Gibson), after all (“Maybe I’m a little crazy”). As the boys meander their way to revelation and redemption, the movie turns pokey: you know where they’re all headed, so the prolonged, multiple finales only extend the inevitable showdown — in a church, no less.
Usually, a little Vaughn goes a long way, but here he serves as welcome respite from Wilson’s cloying romantic lead. Set against Vaughn’s obscenity-laced rat-a-tat, Wilson’s drawly style just seems to slow down a vehicle that’s already dragging and overloaded. The film is also troubled by its efforts to split the Ben Stiller role. While Vaughn embodies (and quite embraces) the film’s vulgarities, he’s also — as always — wry, posing as if aware of his strangeness, even if it’s of a wholly mundane sort. Poor Wilson, whatever his actual skills (see, for instance, The Minus Man), is stuck here with the “sincere” role in an otherwise boisterous boys’ movie, unconvincing during his moony-eyed romance montages and sluggish amid the mayhem. (Yes, he’s paired with the sincere girl, but she’s a prop by definition in such a movie.)
At last, like its many precursors, Wedding Crashers is about boy love. Though Jeremy complains — following a particularly rough night with Gloria — that John’s insistence that he stay on is just too much (“A friend in need is a pest”), the important lesson here is precisely their mutual affection. They don’t want to be their ostensible role model — a legendary wedding crasher named Chaz (played by Will Ferrell, which is all the information you need as to how he functions here). They need one another. Girls mark them as heterosexual, but really, it’s about the two of them. His back to his whiney buddy, fed up with the whole scene and resentful that John is asking for still more time and commitment, his mouth stuffed with energy-replenishing waffles, muffins, and syrup. Jeremy gives it up, mush-mouthed and honest, at last: “I love you too.”