Till Cancellation Do Us Part

Jonnie and Derek are tonight's unlucky couple.
Jonnie and Derek are tonight's unlucky couple. (By Tana Hayes -- Nbc)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007

NBC's latest experiment in desperation air fare, "The Real Wedding Crashers," is an HD broadcast: Hugely Dumb. The network, which recently celebrated its worst week of prime-time ratings ever, isn't going to climb out of any sewers with this slimy little gutter-dweller.

The "real" in the title is meant to distinguish the reality-comedy ordeal from a funny 2005 movie comedy called "Wedding Crashers," with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as two goofs who go to strangers' weddings ISO available women who are ISO available men. These boys are nothing if not available.

Forget all that, because the NBC show bears no resemblance and contains, at the most, three laughs within its one-hour running time -- not that it ever revs itself up to so much as a lope, much less a run. It's sometimes been the case in movies and television that tastelessness has its own inherent crude energy, but not "Wedding Crashers." It manages to be that rare bird (but maybe not rare enough), a boring horror.

It isn't worth the effort it takes to be appalled, but it is worth the effort it takes to locate the clicker and fire off some of those magical channel-changing rays. Even if you have to change the batteries.

The lame game comes from the junky production house of pretty-boy Ashton Kutcher and pals who worked with him on MTV's nasty "Candid Camera" update "Punk'd." In that series, still seen in musty reruns, Kutcher & Company played elaborate and sometimes cruel tricks on mid-level celebrities who were teased and tormented for maybe 10 minutes (as edited for TV) and then gleefully informed "you've been punk'd" just, it seemed, as the victims of the ruse were about to collapse in tears or explode in rage.

What happens on "Wedding Crashers" is what has happened at virtually every wedding ever held: Something goes wrong. The "Crashers'" crises are planned and wickedly executed by improvisational comics, however, always with the knowledge and cooperation of the bride and groom.

Right off, one wonders how the producers found enough couples willing to spoil their weddings for the sake of a cheap television show's even cheaper gags. The idea is that for years they'll sit back and laugh at all the carefully engineered mayhem and shocked looks on the faces of guests and members of the wedding party. More likely, if the marriage lasts longer than a few months, both parties will come to regret the fact that they turned what is supposed to be a romantic and momentous event into a vulgar farce.

"Derek" and "Jonnie" are the hapless Southern Californians who undergo the first wedding mess on the series' premiere tonight (NBC has ordered six episodes -- at least five too many). The gags played include damaging the bride's wedding dress by closing a car door on it and dragging it all over Los Angeles, then having an actor playing a tailor radically shorten it so that the damage won't show.

Though Mike, the guy who drove the car, wasn't to blame -- one of the show's stooges arranged the damaging of the dress -- Mike's made to feel responsible. And mournfully guilty. He looks like he might drive down to Malibu and hurl himself off a cliff. We of the audience are supposed to get a giggle out of this poor victim's mournful mortification -- even though it isn't at all funny.

Partly to reassure us, the cooperating couple are edited into the show now and then to laugh uproariously at such things as poor Mike's misery. "How do you get any better than that?" Derek roars. "It's awesome!"

At the actual ceremony, an actor playing the presiding preacher coughs repeatedly while reading his spiel and then, in one of the few mildly inspired moments, stops the service to answer his beeping cellphone while the bride, groom and infuriated guests wait impatiently. Later, an actress drops the multi-tiered wedding cake as she and another woman are carrying it in, a big cake wallow following.

A majority of the pranks happen before the ceremony, as when the best man is almost arrested by a creepy bogus cop for smoking Cuban cigars. Smearing yourself with crushed cake may be modestly funny, but terrifying someone into thinking he's heading for the slammer is sick sadism.

Once more the wedding couple appear -- explaining what the show's premise is and how it works. Is this for the benefit of those who tune in late -- or is it to help make the show more excerptable for the popular clip-job Web sites? "Wedding Crashers" aims to be YouTubal television, but the gags take so long to execute that the pace will be punishing whatever the genre or medium.

It's an exercise in punishment, really -- viewer abuse and cruelty to the victims of the hoax. On "Saturday Night Live's" parody of Kutcher's "Punk'd," Justin Timberlake has played Kutcher as a braying, bratty boor with an infinite appetite for his own hostile gags. Although Kutcher isn't seen in "Wedding Crashers" -- at least so far -- one can almost hear him cackling in a corner while the faux fun is taped.

Is "Real Wedding Crashers" yet another sign that pop culture is choking on its own corruption and heartless inanity? Actually, it would be flattering the show to call it a sign of anything. It's just a sign of itself, no more significant than it is amusing, far less funny than it is fiendish.

Real Wedding Crashers premieres tonight at 10 on Channel 4.

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