Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd are such reliably funny actors that you’d be safe betting they could perform an instruction manual and still be amusing doing it.
Which is kind of what “They Came Together” is – a How-to-Make-a-Romantic-Comedy primer.
Think of it as a self-aware 80-minute R-rated “Saturday Night Live” sketch – more than a few laughs, more than a few sharp observations about the conventions and cliches of the genre, more than a few “SNL” and “The Office” alumni as stars or co-stars.
Molly is the “cute, kinda klutzy” one, a bubbly goof who runs a sweets shop named “Upper Sweets Side,” a gal who can say “New York City was almost like a boyfriend for me.”
Joel is her “just Jewish enough” date, an office drone at the “faceless, evil conglomerate,” CSR (Candy Systems & Research).
And “They Came Together” is them telling the story, in long flashbacks, about how they met in that “typical, corny, romantic comedy kind of way.” Bill Hader and Ellie Klemper are the dinner-date couple who insist hearing the tale.
The Michael Showalter-David Wain script almost blinds itself with its knowing winks. There’s the revelation that, just as in such films as “You’ve Got Mail” and its antecedents, Joel’s company is a threat to Molly’s shop, and “disclosing this information was a huge turn of events.”
Kenan Thompson of “SNL” plays the one friend who urges Joel to propose to Molly: “Being married is great. That’s the point of view I [his character] represent!”
That shtick wears thin quickly, but throw-away moments and the odd zinger really goose this farce. Ed Helms (“The Office)” is into Molly, but also Molly’s accountant.
Whenever Joel’s boss (Christopher Meloni) enters a meeting, there’s a secretary to squirt hand sanitizer into his waiting palm.
Every so often, some R-rated jolt rattles the sketch-comedy cage this is trapped in – Joel’s acrobatic sex scene with his ex (Cobie Smulders), Molly’s thank-you kiss to her obligatory black best friend/assistant (Teyonah Parris), a kiss that goes on a little too long.
But Poehler and Rudd riff and banter like old marrieds. They make even the cheesiest lines funny, make even the cliched dating montages set to syrupy pop music feel – if not fresh and new – at least funny enough to mock.
‘They Came Together’
2.5 stars (Grade: C-plus)
Cast: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Bill Hader, Ed Helms
Directed by David Wain, written by Michael Showalter and David Wain. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:23
MPAA rating: R for language and sexual content