Kids these days, if they were so inclined, could be pretty smug about the superiority of their pop culture over that of the generation that came before. Frogger vs. Grand Theft Auto, “cassingles” vs. iPod, The Bionic Woman vs. Lost'and don’t even get started on the hairstyles and fashions. I mean, it’s really not even fair.
But if there’s one thing we knew how to do back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was lowbrow movie comedy. In many ways that was the golden era of sweet crude, from slobs vs. snobs classics like Animal House and Caddyshack to pure adolescent horndogism like Porky’s. It was beautiful because it was unapologetic; nobody felt the need to insert an important life lesson to justify the gratuitous profanity and even-more-gratuitous boobies. They weren’t always great, but they were committed to their sleaze, and didn’t wuss out. But then Hollywood got timid about letting anarchy reign, and this is why the American Pie movies with their morals-to-the-story are such a corruption of the form.
For a while, Wedding Crashers feels like a throwback to all that was gloriously raunchy about the vintage efforts of 25 years ago. Its titular protagonists are John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn), a pair of best buddies in Washington, D.C., who have learned the secret of picking up women by posing as party guests at weddings. And in a virtuoso piece of filmmaking by director David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights), we see exactly what that means'playing the right roles to take advantage of the romance-flushed single ladies at these events, wriggle out of the one-night-stand, and get ready for the next weekend.
John and Jeremy love what they do'and for the howlingly funny first hour of Wedding Crashers, so should we. Both lead actors are never better than when they’re playing con men'Wilson the genial rascal, Vaughn the fast-talker who gets past you with the force of his personality'and the script by Steve Faber and Bob Fisher sets them squarely in their element. Brilliant gags have the inveterate ceremony attendees laying side bets on the Scripture passages that will be read (“Forty bucks on first Corinthians?) and setting up which angle of attack they’re going to take. The rat-a-tat chemistry between Wilson and Vaughn gives even more energy to their sleaziness, and riding along with them is a blast.
The movie’s still riding high for a while even after it leaves the wedding scene. At a ceremony for the daughter of Secretary of the Treasury William Cleary (Christopher Walken), John and Jeremy set their eyes on the bride’s two sisters. But while Gloria (Isla Fisher) is only too happy to play along with Jeremy, John discovers that Claire (Rachel McAdams) already has a boyfriend. The smitten John isn’t about to give up, however, and convinces Jeremy to extend their role-playing to a weekend trip to the Cleary family home. It’s here that Vaughn gets to soar, dealing with the clingy, crazy Gloria'including a hilarious dinner table rubdown'to give his buddy a chance to close the deal. He’s like the patron saint of wingmen.
If Wedding Crashers had opted to stick to its wildly inappropriate guns, it could have become a classic. But it turns into a conventional romantic comedy, giving John obligatory obstacles to his interest in Claire as he begins to question his bed-hopping ways. And the script gets utterly confused at this point. Though it seems John’s perspective shift occurs at a fairly early point, the movie dribbles along for another half hour while he learns his important life lesson yet again after meeting Jeremy’s mentor in the rules of wedding-crashing (a nice cameo by another comedy all-star). Co-writer Faber once worked on Married ? With Children. You’d think he’d know that envelopes are for pushing, not mailing in.
The first half of Wedding Crashers is inspired enough that even its late loss of momentum can’t completely spoil its pleasures, but it’s disappointing to see yet another contender for the lowbrow throne brought down by its lack of resolve. Just when John is learning the importance of commitment, the makers of Wedding Crashers are forgetting it. The kids these days could learn a few lessons by looking back at when crude didn’t need any artificial sweeteners.
Scott Renshaw reviews new movies on Fox 13’s Good Day Utah, Thursdays in the 7 a.m. hour.