The Five-Year Engagement plays like a five-episode, R-rated story arc from How I Met Your Mother. With more profanity, more explicit sex, considerably less drinking and no Neil Patrick Harris.
Jason Segel, co-star of the TV show and the movie, and his Forgetting Sarah Marshall team feed us two hours-plus of recycled gags from the show (e.g. Segel's "Big Foot" impersonation) and bits that could have been in the sitcom but were too expensive for it. They layer the soundtrack with music by Van Morrison, whose love songs are used so often in the movies that they're collected on a CD, Van Morrison Goes to the Movies.
That adds up to an occasionally engaging romantic dramedy that never blows away that "Where have I seen this before?" feeling.
Emily Blunt and Segel are Violet and Tom, young lovers in San Francisco planning a wedding. Until she gets a fellowship to study and work at the University of Michigan.
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He gives up his job as sous chef at a trendy restaurant, and the wedding, a big one, is postponed. He's resigned to it, and supportive. She's distracted, even after the pep talk with her ditzy sister (Alison Brie, a stitch).
Much of the comedy is built around Tom's funk, far from his dream life in his dream city and his dream job. He gets a little too into hunting, becomes a little too fond of dining on deer and dons Ted Nugent facial hair.
His first faculty cocktail party in Ann Arbor tells him all he needs to know. He mentions that he's a chef, and all anybody can think to ask is if he saw the Pixar cartoon Ratatouille.
Violet spends too much time at the office, running psychological experiments with her "bad decisions" specialist mentor (Rhys Ifans) and judging Tom by what she's learning.
The wedding plans keep tumbling backwards.
Segel, so wonderfully lost in Jeff Who Lives at Home, suffers a serious case of Zach Braff-itis here. He's content to warm over what he does on TV, spend more money on the soundtrack and hire Blunt to compensate.
As with every Judd Apatow production, there's nothing that wouldn't have been better at a shorter length and quicker pace. The drawn-out gags, scenes that leisurely run far past their punch line or payoff, and the overdose of supporting players burden the film.
Chris Pratt as Tom's chef pal strains for laughs. Animal Kingdom Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver is a hoot as the bride-to-be's mom, but fellow psychology department researcher Kevin Hart is much funnier in Think Like a Man. Mindy Kaling lands a few laughs; Chris Parnell, fewer than her.
Whatever spicy moments it manages, The Five-Year Engagement is just broth — weak broth — in the end.