At first glance, one might regard the premise of Stephen James’ “Certain Guys” — five old friends reunite for a weekend at the lake for one friend’s wedding — with a stifled yawn and a slightly smug “been-there-done-that” shrug of the shoulders.
One would be mistaken.
Mitch (Tom McCarthy) is the prospective groom. Engaged to sweet Texas belle Mary Beth (Melora Hardin), Mitch not only works for his domineering prospective father-in-law, but he also finds himself an increasingly bought man thanks to Mary Beth’s plastic Stepford wife mentality.
Not that the others in this quintet don’t have problems. Burdet (Robert Peters), a mild-mannered accountant who still lives with his mother, thinks he’s finally about to receive a promotion…only to get laid off. Cal (Mark Pellegrino) owes 30G to some thugs in L.A. but is far more distraught that he’s probably blown it for good with Kathleen (a surprisingly good Traci Lords). Ronald (Diedrich Bader) is an uptight, politically correct dentist who, although seemingly content in his role as husband and father, never quite got over what went wrong between himself and Mary Beth years ago. And Stuart (James) is about to drop a wholly unexpected personal bombshell on his unsuspecting friends.
James does an excellent job capitalizing on the built-in production value provided by some of his Dallas hometown’s tonier neighborhoods. This is also an extremely tight, well-written picture whose characters do that rarest of rare things in ensemble films like this; they — gasp — evolve from cardboard caricatures into real people, as equally capable of brilliant actions as they are of completely boneheaded maneuvers.
There are quite a few moments here that will have you chuckling as dryly as your martini, thanks primarily to the inspired casting of Bader and Peters. There are just as many that will leave you, if not necessarily dabbing at your eyes, then earnestly pulling for these guys. It’s certainly a testimony as to how well written this is that when Mitch and the gang finally head for the lake, wondering if, as Cal puts it, they’re even still friends or if they’re simply coasting on their history, that’s the precise moment when they discover how crucial their friendship still is.
Admittedly, this isn’t revolutionary filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, it’s easy to see “Certain Guys” as a TV pilot or a breezy but solid movie of the week.
Yet, although the premise itself perhaps isn’t the most unique the movies have ever seen, it’s the five flesh and blood characters James brings to life on the screen that nudge “Certain Guys” a notch or two above the others in the “Big Chill” genre.