‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates’
Director:
Jake Szymanski
Stars: Zac Efron, Adam DeVine
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Bros create playful Craigslist ad. Bros go viral. Bros score a book deal. Bros (who are also bros, as in brothers) score a movie deal, too. It’s not fair and it doesn’t even play by the rules of the modern Internet, when fun (or even deadly important) matters have a shelf life shorter than the stint of a new Spider-Man actor. We’re supposed to suffer from instant memory loss, and yet real-life guys’ guys Mike and Dave Stangle have parlayed a fad started in 2013 into a cottage industry that now includes gory shots of Zac Efron’s abs.

But there’s a kind of happy ending to this. Despite the Stangles’ claim that it’s “80 percent true,” the movie based on their Tucker Max-y cash-in book “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is so clearly divorced from the real deal it’s barely Tucker Max-y at all. It might even be progressive, if you ignore things like a predatory lesbian and a masseuse rubbing his genitals all over a female client’s bare behind. The Stangles lucked into brief fame and unearned riches, but they’ve been rewarded with a movie that (mostly) upends their dudeish worldview and makes the ladies funnier than the gentlemen.

The set-up is the same, mostly: Mike and Dave (a reliably self-mocking Efron and a reliably mugging Adam DeVine) are degenerates infamous for showing up at weddings and family functions stag, then fomenting explosive and YouTube-able calamities. Their family demands they bring dates to their sister’s wedding, so they start an online campaign that, just like the real deal, features an image of their heads photoshopped upon armed centaurs in front of the Declaration of Independence. Cue a typically dreary montage of bad dates with horrible grotesques. Our heroes settle on a pair of sisters, Alice and Tatiana (Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, both reliably reliable), but only because they pretended to be nice and together. In truth, they’re both of them hot messes who can’t hold jobs and only took the gig to score a free Hawaiian vacay.

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Gross-out sequences abound, spiritually lifted from Farrelly brothers films, “The Hangover” and “Wedding Crashers” (the latter cited, as though it was a get-out-of-jail-free card). There’s mayhem on an ATV trip through the former set of “Jurassic Park,” at an unusually saucy health spa and, eventually, at a disastrous rehearsal dinner that winds up overrun with rampaging horses. But the real saving grace is its stars, who, judging from the source, are definitely funnier than the Stangles ever were. All four leads spend much of the movie standing around firing off whatever nonsense is on the top of their heads, ranging from “Veep”-y insults to wordplay, as when the undereducated Dave confuses “ultimatum” with “old tomato.”  

A semi-hit piece published by Observer portrays the Stangles as undereducated, too — likeable but clueless lunks blissfully oblivious of how the other gender lives. The movie is not their opposite, exactly, but it doesn’t fall into the usual trap of pairing stern killjoy girls with zany guys. In fact, Alice and Tatiana are wilder and more hellraising than their male counterparts — basically carbon copies of Ilana and Abbi from “Broad City,” which would be more vexing if they weren’t played by Kendrick and Plaza. Alice is the more normal of the two, with a weepy backstory involving being jilted at the altar. But even she’s prone to popping Molly and raising Cain — sedate only when compared to Plaza’s openly manipulative and evil Tatiana. “Mike and Dave” isn’t being sold as another “Bridesmaids” — and has therefore been immune to the ire of MRAs — but it’s a movie where the women steal the show from the men, who are already funny themselves. (Though slightly neutered with real feelings that spew forth in the obligatory if thankfully minor third act tonal shift, Efron remains a poet at sending up the Zac Efron type.)

Again, this isn’t exactly an enlightened picture, but it nimbly avoids being Cro-Magnon. Even the dodgy bit where their tightly-wound sister (Sugar Lyn Beard) scores a naked massage (from “Silicon Valley”’s Kumanji Nanjiani) is at least played not for bros but for women, focusing on her enjoyment and record-setting mirth. And the subplot involving a scheming, butch lesbian cousin (Alice Wetterlund) who wants to make it with Tatiana before Dave can makes fun of Dave’s irrational (and never quite explained) hatred of her more than the fact that she’s a butch lesbian. This is a pure salvage job, and it usually just falls back on its actors ignoring the script’s dialogue. But given what they had to work with, what they’ve pulled off is downright Herculean.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge