'Wedding Crashers' Catches the Bouquet

Lock up your bridesmaids: Owen Wilson, left, and Vince Vaughn are the irresistible, if uninvited, life of the post-nuptial party.
Lock up your bridesmaids: Owen Wilson, left, and Vince Vaughn are the irresistible, if uninvited, life of the post-nuptial party. (By Richard Cartwright -- New Line Productions)
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 15, 2005

Some men will do anything to get a date; good lord, some of them will even be nice to other people's children.

That's pretty much the technique of Jeremy Klein (Vince Vaughn) and John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) in "Wedding Crashers." Jeremy and John aren't so much wedding crashers as wedding vikings. They're raiders who swoop in, eat, drink, carouse, suck up to whoever is paying for the spread, dance with old ladies, make balloon hats for kiddies -- the horror! the horror! -- play on the sentimentalized weaknesses of those on the other side of the gender line, then score and flee. The best that can be said of them is: They don't pillage or burn, and they appear to have acceptable hygiene.

Based on that alarmingly cynical premise, the film chronicles the end of the two cads, as each is tamed by that which he fears the most, that dog from hell called love. It doesn't help much that Vaughn's Jeremy is a lot more interesting than Wilson's John, and that Jeremy's ultimate match Gloria (spicy, spunky Isla Fisher) is a lot more interesting than John's ultimate, Claire (cute, bland Rachel McAdams). It also doesn't help that the movie is half an hour too long and has bad third-act troubles.

None of those things helps; but none hurts much either, because "Wedding Crashers" is so lung-bloatingly funny.

"Wedding Crashers" has the distinction of being the rare R-rated comedy from an industry that has of late much preferred the somehow smuttier but less amusing hard-PG-13. But "Crashers" is pure, hard R for Raunch and aRrested development, to say nothing of Ruthlessness and iRresponsibility. It's rat-brain primitive, and the scene where Jeremy is, um, put through an excellent adventure under the dinner table in a dining room full of otherwise cold-blooded WASPy types should have everyone talking about it by Monday.

The movie has a good time in the early going as the two fellows -- their cynicism is well-earned as professional divorce mediators who are used to seeing marriages come unglued in rancor, greed and ugliness -- shunt through a variety of ceremonies and receptions. They become what they must become, Jewish, Italian, even Asian; they're so infectious in their enthusiasm they fit in anywhere. They have mastered ethnic dances and wedding customs, they have a litany of jokes for each audience, and the balloon trick for the kids is sheer genius as is the can't-miss-at-Republican-weddings line, "We lost a lot of good men over there but [sniffle, sniffle] I don't want to talk about it." At each reception, they're always the life of the party, the first to dance, the most generous, attentive and sporting. It's just that they're, you know, complete phonies. They've learned that the secret to success is the ability to fake sincerity and they fake sincerity really well.

Their comeuppance is cleverly engineered. The setting being Washington, D.C. (the town looks good, by the way), they decide to crash, as a last hurrah, the summer's biggest event, the nuptials of one of the children of the secretary of the treasury, William Cleary (Christopher Walken). One of his blond daughters -- how could he tell which one? -- is marrying a blond hunk who is named Chad, Tad, Nick or possibly Stone or Brick, something like that.

This is the big enchilada of weddings, and so the boys feel duty-bound to get in. And they do, too. Then a terrible thing happens: Each falls for a different Cleary daughter.

For John, it's Claire, who attracts him because she Sees Through It. That is, when her sister and the new hubby recite vows they've written for themselves, Claire thinks it's so stupid it's funny. It is stupid and funny; the only problem is Claire's boyfriend, a thug in a polo shirt who's not stupid and funny, just stupid.

Meanwhile, big Jeremy picks up on Gloria, who is putting out certain easy-to-get signals that most guys will recognize but pass on, it being akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Not Jeremy, who never met a fish in a barrel at whom he wouldn't take a shot.

The real discovery of the film is Fisher, who plays the presumably easy-to-woo Gloria as a "Phase-5 clinger." She's not only a girl who can't say no, but who won't hear no when it is said to her. She gloms limpetlike to Jeremy, who wants nothing more than to escape. Neatly, by that time John has fallen for Claire, so the movie is sustained by an interesting conflict of motives: Jeremy yearns to flee, John to stay, thus their partnership is sorely tested.

It's also this circumstance that yields the movie's most hysterical sequence, a long weekend at the Cleary manse somewhere on the Chesapeake. The Clearys, as any family headed by Christopher Walken would surely be, turn out to be as comically twisted as anybody's, a kind of compilation of old-family pathologies out of Eugene O'Neill and Charles Addams. Besides the super-horny Gloria, there's her mother, played at a pitch of high want by Jane Seymour in a refreshingly non-goody-goody tone, there's a bitter gay son, the angry boyfriend, a twisted granny and, of course, ever magnificent, the strangest man on Earth, Walken, as head of this menagerie.

In the end, "Wedding Crashers" loses its nerve. After having said nothing good about anybody, it suddenly says everything good about everybody. The ending, so long in coming, is like that deflating moment in the classical Don Rickles canon when, after tearing the world collectively a new nether passage, he'd turn to Johnny and say, "But you know, we're really all brothers under the skin blah blah blah blah." Ugh. When Jeremy and John quarrel, break up and get mopey and then figure out how to get back together, and everything turns out happily after all -- what a bummer.

Wedding Crashers (119 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for sexually explicit language and humor.

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