Playing a pair of divorce lawyers gone to the bad, Vaughn and Wilson have an appealing chemistry. There's something almost innocent about their glee in carrying out the elaborate rules of seduction taught to Vaughn long ago by his mentor, one Chaz, whose name the pair invoke with solemn veneration. It doesn't take long, however, for their appeal to wear thin.
In a brief sequence with all the subtlety of a trailer (much of the trailer is taken from it, in fact), one moment the boys are leading a chorus of "Hava Nagila" at a Jewish wedding, and the next they're putting themselves at one with Irish revelers by loudly proclaiming their plan to get drunk. All this is merely a prelude to the flood of unoriginality and strained attempts at outrageousness that follow.
At a tony D.C. reception, our heroes depart from their playbook by becoming emotionally entangled with their prey, who happen to be daughters of Treasury Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken, whose talents go to waste). Vaughn goes for a chirpy nymphomaniac (Isla Fisher), and Wilson for a sweet-hearted do-gooder, Claire (Rachel McAdams of "Mean Girls"). The scene then shifts to the Clearys' Maryland shore compound, where the movie languishes, as if stricken, for the better part of an hour.
If you've ever witnessed high-school students try to whip up SNL-type sketch comedy, everything in "Wedding Crashers" will have a familiar feel. Ma Cleary (Jane Seymour) is sexually starved and quickly puts the Mrs. Robinson moves on a befuddled Owen Wilson. The runt of the Cleary litter (sloppily played by Keir O'Donnell) is a demented, gay sexual predator, or, more succinctly, "a homo," as his round-the-bend grandma repeatedly calls him at the dinner table. Her other hobby is laying into Eleanor Roosevelt, who, she insists, was an incorrigible lesbian. Moreover, and inexplicably, Claire is engaged to an overtly sadistic maniac (Bradley Cooper) who does not hesitate to savagely tongue-lash her or to pump buckshot into the flesh of people he doesn't care for. It's all supposed to be a scream. Given the film's disturbing current of hatred and contempt for gays, and its equally distressing embrace of any noxious stereotype that comes to hand, it's a miracle that the one black character (though a butler, of course) is the only person in the film with a shred of dignity. He's on-screen about two minutes.
As "South Park" consistently demonstrates, any vulgarity can be justified by wit and insight, but these are in short supply in "Wedding Crashers." It's hardly surprising that in the last half hour, the movie cravenly apologizes for all the bad behavior it celebrates in its first two acts. With punishing slowness, Vaughn and Wilson discover they have hearts after all, and they clumsily proceed to display these sorry organs on their sleeves, for all to see and admire.
As its running time approaches two hours, the film delivers what is intended as a knockout punch: the appearance of Will Farrell as Chaz, the deviser of the wedding-crashing scheme. But his arrival is unwelcome; it serves only to protract our suffering. (R) * S
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