Brothers Dave and Mike Stangle needed dates for their cousin’s wedding in Saratoga, New York, so they did what any two red-blooded American males would do in 2013—they put an ad on Craigslist. The ad went viral, as they say, and the two were briefly the flavor of the month on the morning talk show circuit. The result was probably more than they could have imagined, or, if you’re cynical, was exactly what the two imagined: a book deal, followed by a reported seven-figure script offer. No dates materialized; the two went to the wedding with friends.
What material the Stangle dudes added to stretch a Craigslist ad into 244 pages of brother bro adventures can only be known by those who actually read it, meaning those who read “American Psycho” for inspiration, or anyone who enjoys a good hate-read. Apparently, very little of what the two Tucker Max wannabes had to say made it into the feature film, which didn’t improve the film as much as it should have.
Written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien and directed by television and Web series helmer Jake Szymanski, the story hinges on the notorious Craigslist ad but is stretched out in order to reach a completely different outcome. In a misplaced attempt at equal opportunity through nondiscriminatory amped-up crassness—an increasingly unfortunate trend in comedy—Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) are matched by Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), who, having seen the Stangle brothers on “The Wendy Williams Show,” dupe the two into believing they’re decent women deserving of a free vacation to a destination wedding in Hawaii.
From a change in perception in the opening credits, there’s a glimmer of hope that this comedy could have been made with a surprising, self-reflexive tone. First, the brothers’ antics are shown from a heroic perspective; epic is how they’d be described. Surprisingly, the point of view widens, revealing their behavior as clumsy and destructive. It’s all the more unfortunate then when what remains of the movie contains none of this irony. Instead, the movie stumbles from one implausible scenario to the next, distracted from barreling toward the inevitable paired-off ending only by drawn-out physical stunts and bad behavior in broad strokes.
Character actors Stephen Root, Sam Richardson and Sugar Lyn Beard, whose squeaky voice was probably put to better use as Wish Bear in the straight-to-video Care Bears, are hammy props, relegated to supporting Devine’s foolish lead. Efron is a remarkably able straight man. But the biggest disappointments are Plaza and Kendrick. (It’s anyone’s best guess what accent Aubrey Plaza has assumed for the New York scenes.) Better to have been written as the heroines of screwball comedy, their roles lack the nuance needed to pull off the needed deceit or even the patience to keep up the ruse. Lessons can be learned from the greats: Hepburn, Russell, Lombard, Dunne and especially Lemmon and Curtis.