by Jeffrey Lyles | LylesMovieFilms
Occasionally I’ll get ahead of myself watching a movie.
Midway through The Night Before, I was envisioning making this hilarious holiday spin on The Hangover a regular Christmas movie tradition until that wretched second act happened. It’s rare to see a comedy go so spectacularly off the rails after such a promising start.
Three childhood friends — soon to be new father Isaac (Seth Rogen), social media savvy football player Chris (Anthony Mackie) and underachieving musician Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have assembled for one last Christmas Eve of mayhem and partying.
Chris and Isaac kicked off the tradition with Ethan after his parents were killed 14 years ago.
Considering the bulk of the big hedonistic night out is actually pretty tame — the trio sing karaoke, have dinner at a Chinese restaurant and visit the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center — they’re pretty much ready for retirement anyway.
To help ease the transition, Isaac’s wife (Jillian Bell) is contributing to the fun with a grab bag of drugs, which predictably doesn’t end well.
The gang’s ultimate white whale is getting into The Nutcracker Ball — a Christmas Eve party so exclusive the location isn’t revealed until the night of the event.
Saying goodbye to traditions with childhood pals isn’t an overdone premise and is relatable to audience members in their late 20s and 30s.
But the script, credited to four screenwriters, ventures into needless drama, goofy and ridiculous situations. There’s a jarring switch in tone from the fun, warm feel-good hangout movie that kicks off the film that gets displaced for a typical Bros Gone Wild second act.
Having Isaac, Ethan and Chris engage in normal issues like concerns of being a good parent, reconsidering a lost love (Lizzy Caplan) and doping to be a top-tier player were more than enough weighty issues to tackle in between the fun of the trio trying to make it to the party. And with such likable leads, it wasn’t asking too much of the audience to invest in these subplots.
Instead, Director Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies) cranks the silly dial to ’20’ going for the most over the top scenarios. These uninspired gems including a woman who causes mischief to be a real life Grinch, a sleigh ride chase, a tasteless church scene and the faithful standby scene of Rogen’s character getting high out of his mind.
Turns out Rogen’s drugged out stoner shtick only works for 20 minutes before it becomes highly annoying. It’s the go-to move in his repertoire, but after a dozen films with little variation, it’s just not sustainable through an entire film. Not even the Hail Mary gambit of a forced cameo by Rogen’s frequent collaborator James Franco is enough to salvage this gag gone too long.
And there’s just something woefully out of touch about Miley Cyrus being the film’s big celebrity cameo. Unlike the life support career of Mike Tyson before his appearance in The Hangover, Cyrus is moderately current though desperate to remain relevant and shocking. At least she’s got that in common with the film.
Michael Shannon steals the film as the intense, but strangely warm, drug dealer Mr Green while Lorraine Toussaint has a nice supporting role as Chris’ loving mother. Mindy Kaling is wasted in a thankless cameo
It’s almost easier to be more sympathetic to a movie that is consistently terrible instead of one where an awful second half throttles a funny, promising one so significantly that it fails to stick the landing.
The Night Before offers little hope for a Christmas miracle for those seeking a quality comedy to laugh the night away.