"Wedding Crashers," one of this summer's few films not derived from a novel, a comic book, a TV show, another movie or a cheeseburger, stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey, lifelong friends and partners in a divorce mediation firm. John and Jeremy spend their summers crashing strangers' nuptials in order to avail themselves of the open bars and heightened romantic recklessness of bridesmaids high on vows. But they're also in it for the grandparents, the kids and the cake. John and Jeremy may be damaged, manipulative, emotionally stunted frat boys with mouths like truckers, but they have a sentimental streak a mile wide.
From the first scene of the movie, as screenwriters Steve Faber and Bob Fisher's raunchy, lunatic jokes begin to spill from the mouths of the protagonists in great, cheerful, Tourretic bursts, it's clear that "Wedding Crashers" hearkens to a simpler, more innocent time -- a time before the movies were hijacked by family-friendly merchandisers and bully moralists. Witty, unhinged and fearless, it's exactly the kind of movie we need now; if only to give James Dobson something to get exercised about after a long day of focusing on the family.
John and Jeremy's highly regimented system for infiltrating ceremonies requires them to carefully craft a customized wedding guest persona for each one -- fake purple hearts, made-up dead war buddies, fictional charter memberships to the Oprah Book Club: Nothing that makes them more attractive in the moment and harder to track down later is taboo. The system works until one morning, when a girl whose name John has forgotten calls him on his high bovine-excrement quotient and makes him stop to think. Later, as the friends sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in a contemplative mood after a frenzied wedding-bedding montage, John wonders: "Do you think what we're doing is -- I don't want to say 'sleazy,' because that's not the word -- but irresponsible?"
"Someday we'll look back on this and laugh," Jeremy assures him, "and say we were young and stupid." John considers for a second. "We're not that young."
Still, John is persuaded to attend the final wedding of the season: the marriage of the oldest daughter of the secretary of the Treasury (Christopher Walken). It's "the Kentucky Derby of weddings," and at the reception, John meets and falls instantly in love with the bride's smart and pretty sister, Claire (Rachel McAdams), whom he's crushed to discover is going out with an entitled preppy named Sack Lodge (Bradley Cooper). Jeremy, meanwhile, is off having sex with another sister, the completely deranged and libidinous Gloria (Isla Fisher), who, after their furtive romp on the beach, announces that A) she was a virgin, and B) she's in love.
In different, hammier hands, "Wedding Crashers" could have ended up coming across like a Neil LaBute sledgehammer to the knuckles. But nothing is cuter than Wilson and Vaughn together, tending to their friendship as though it were a hothouse orchid. Not bunnies. Not puppies. Not Will Ferrell, who officially wears out his screen welcome this summer in an ill-advised appearance toward the end of the movie. (The hyper-active bonehead routine -- will it ever stop?)
Hollywood has been systematically narrowing and blunting the definition of comedy for so long now, it seems nothing that is not a spastic, infantile retread qualifies anymore. Vaughn, in particular, has a sophisticated sense of humor and an emotional dark streak that wouldn't fit just anywhere, and director David Dobkin allows it to unfurl and deepen as the movie progresses. John is the more contemplative, self-possessed of the two friends, and Wilson brings his mellow-guy calm and equanimous humor to every scene he's in. But Jeremy is the soul of the movie. There's something about Vaughn -- the deadpan eyes; the sublimated, misdirected intelligence -- that recalls Bill Murray in his "Caddyshack" years.
Within a couple of hours, John has broken all the rules -- as set down by Chazz (Ferrell), a legendary 40-year-old who still lives with his mother -- of wedding crashing by falling in love with Claire and spending a weekend at her parents' Chesapeake Bay estate.
There they encounter the usual humiliations -- a bigoted grandma, a phalanx of aggressive entitled frat boys, etc. -- which they fight with charm, patience and a solid squirt of saline in the drinking water. John wistfully pursues the vague Claire, while Jeremy endures the affections of Gloria and her crazy artist brother, Todd (Keir O'Donnell.)