There are times when “The Five-Year Engagement” feels like a relic, particularly the belief that any use of the F word is instantaneously funny.
Doughnuts play a major role in the latest “Bridesmaids” clone, “The Five-Year Engagement.” And you couldn’t concoct a more apt metaphor for a doughy movie featuring a conspicuous hole in the middle. At least it’s not sickeningly sweet, but it does leave your eyes glazed by the laugh-starved machinations of an engaged couple encountering a series of roadblocks on the way down the aisle.
In fact, you’d be challenged to laugh once during a two-hour-plus slog in which much of the intended hilarity resides in frequent utterances of the F-bomb, venison and Wham! posters. And since none of these lackadaisical stabs at humor works the first time, why not repeat them two, three, maybe four times? That’s the warped philosophy of Jason Segel and his cowriter-director Nicholas Stoller, the duo who previously brought us the infinitely more clever “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” This time they’re stuck on automatic pilot, relying heavily on obvious jokes and romantic platitudes to prop up a script that treads on the antiquated idea that love is nothing without marriage.
For Segel’s Tom and Emily Blunt’s Violet it’s apparently not enough to live together, sleep together and cheer the other up when one is down – and do so for five years running. No, as if to please right-wing Republicans, they want a preacher to make their romance legit. Thus, we watch in complete and utter boredom as they repeatedly set a date only to cancel due to extenuating circumstances such as a grandparent’s death, an impetuous kiss and a pregnant kid sister (Alison Brie), who, God forbid, not dare hesitate in marrying the baby’s boorish daddy (“Moneyball’s” Chris Pratt) because that, you know, would make the kid a ... What in the name of Rick Santorum is going on here? Who knows? We’re as clueless as Segel and Stoller in trying to make sense of a movie that creates conflict just to create conflict. And they do it because they have nothing else to offer on a topic that was rendered moot nearly 40 years ago at the advent of the sexual revolution. Lucky for them – and us – we have the presence of the extremely likable tandem of Blunt and Segel to ease the misery. But even they eventually expend their welcome thanks to the repetitiveness of a script that always seems to be running in place.
The only thing breaking up the monotony is the film’s shift in locations from San Francisco, where we first meet Tom (a fast-rising sous chef) and Violet (a budding behavioral psychologist), to Ann Arbor, where Violet receives an offer to work on her doctorate at the University of Michigan, where she plans to use doughnuts to prove levels of marital commitment. Cue the deep piles of snow and torrents of “quirky” supporting characters, led by Rhys Ifans as Violet’s amorous department chief, and Randy Quaid look-alike Brian Posehn as Tom’s grungy, foul-mouthed coworker at the off-campus sandwich shop our chic cooking-class hero is forced to work out of necessity. Neither actor is very good, but both are a marked improvement over Pratt as Tom’s dim-witted BFF, and Brie, as Violet’s shrill sister. You recoil every time they appear on screen. That’s especially true of Brie, who at one point engages Blunt in a serious conversation in which they imitate the voices of Elmo and Cookie Monster. This, friends, is why we have gun laws.
Page 2 of 2 - As co-writer, Segel predictably reserves the weirdest stuff for himself, be it running drunk and naked through the snow or immersing his character in the bucked-up world of a deer hunter, packing a crossbow (move over Katniss) as heat. We watch him literally eat, drink and sleep in deer products. If that strikes you as funny, just wait until he gets to the Wham! jokes. What is this 1988? Yes, there are times when “The Five-Year Engagement” feels like a relic, particularly the belief that any use of the F word is instantaneously funny. What? No poopy pants?
THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (R for language and sexual situations.) Cast includes Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt and Alison Brie. Co-written and directed by Nicholas Stoller. 1.5 stars out of 4.