Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn seem to show up in a new movie every month, and their shtick is getting old. They’re Johnny-One-Notes. Wilson is always the diffident, soft-spoken, semi-stoned surfer dude made adorably vulnerable by a nose that goes in, like, six different directions. Vaughn is the really tall, sleazy, jabbering gonzo wild man. The poster for Wedding Crashers (New Line) makes it clear that the film will be more of what we’ve come to expect, and it is. The difference is that it’s funny—and not funny in a scattershot way. It’s funny in a way that makes the pleasures mount up.
No, it’s not Preston Sturges: It has a soft center and it’s totally formulaic. But the script by Steve Faber and Bob Fisher is one of those high-speed, ping-pong-banter marvels in which you’re still laughing from the last great line when you’re hit by the next. And say what you will about Wilson and Vaughn, they have timing even Groucho would salute. Vaughn is like the machine that shoots tennis balls—thunk-thunk-thunk—while Wilson lulls you with his lazy rhythms and, when your guard is down, nails you with the joke.
As you know from the title (the movie was probably a one-sentence pitch), this is the story of two men whose seasonal hobby is crashing weddings and seducing the marriage-minded females who are already softened up by the ceremony. As mediators for divorce cases, they have a suitably jaded view of long-term relationships and marriage. For them, quantity equals quality.
What makes their antics amusing is that when they show up at receptions where nobody knows them, they don’t keep a low profile. They go right out and dance with the bride and her family (especially the old grandmas). They entertain the kids under the admiring eyes of their female prey. They make toasts. The first act of the movie climaxes in a dizzying montage of women (some topless) surrendering to our heroes, their happy squeals intercut with frenzied renditions of “Shout” from multiple weddings (with multiple religions and ethnicities). “A little bit softer now … a little bit louder now …” The sequence builds and builds and then explodes.
OK, the view of women is admittedly sexist. Given the moralistic climate of the moment, though, it’s exhilarating to see a genuinely R-rated comedy with dirty talk and casual sex. Wedding Crashers has incensed some conservative commentators because Sen. John McCain, a one-time critic of filthy Hollywood values, shows up in a cameo. But the joke might be on the finger-waggers, because the values here are pretty traditional. After the pair’s series of triumphs, Wilson’s John sits depleted on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the Washington Monument in the distance, mocking him with its stiffness. He feels empty—and guilty. Although Vaughn’s Jeremy reassures him in the grubbiest manner imaginable, you know that these feckless studs will have to pay for their carnal crimes, that they’ll suffer much when true love pitches its tent in their hearts.
The director, David Dobkin, made a half-successful black comedy in 1998 called Clay Pigeons, in which Vaughn was a hoot as a serial killer whose bland bonhomie grew creepier with each new corpse. Then he got the same old lazy Wilson turn (opposite Jackie Chan) in the tiresome Shanghai Knights. The beauty part is that he obviously knows the duo’s strengths and limitations. He knows that Wilson’s crooked features can look especially poignant in repose, and that Vaughn’s size can breed hilarity when he tries to slink away. (Call this the John Cleese Principle.) Dobkin keeps you laughing even when the movie takes a more conventional turn.
That happens when John and Jeremy crash the “Kentucky Derby of weddings” with the daughter of the old-WASP secretary of the treasury, played by Christopher Walken. (I wouldn’t trust him with my money, but his chill deadpan is priceless.) John is instantly smitten by the bride’s dimply sister, Claire (Rachel McAdams), who’s too ravishing and unaffected—not to mention brainy—to seduce and abandon. So he breaks all the rules of wedding-crashing and prevails upon Jeremy to journey to the family’s country house. The problem is that Jeremy has already made it with the third daughter (the sparkling mega-babe Isla Fisher, soon to be Mrs. Sasha Baron Cohen) whom he refers to as “a stage-five clinger.” Sticking around runs contrary to the existential foundation of Jeremy’s life.
In the film’s second half, the conflict shifts: It’s now between our increasingly helpless con-artist heroes and an extended family of ruthless WASP bluebloods—indefatigable sailors, voracious quail hunters, and bone-crunching touch-football players. We’ve ventured into Meet the Parents territory, only soppier: John really moons over Claire, who has a rich, assholic WASP fiancé (Bradley Cooper). But Dobkin (and his beat-perfect editor, Mark Livolsi) manage to keep the pace from slackening too much. Wedding Crashers has a couple of cards up its sleeve: the secretary’s morbid-artist son (Keir O’Donnell) and his own peculiar predilections, and a comic superstar cameo. (If you know the oeuvre of Wilson and Vaughn, you know it can only be one of two actors. And it’s not the shorter one.)
Yes, the movie turns sappy and conventional in the last 10 minutes. But it’s a mark of a good seducer that you recognize the hustle but go along anyway, because resisting would be a drag. Wedding Crashers gives you a great shallow romp without making you feel bad in the morning.