If your Santa wish list includes yet another “James Franco swings secretly gay” gag, then Christmas has come early for you, friend: The Night Before has granted that wish. Hopes for a truly great holiday comedy, alas, will be dashed.
The elements are all there: the tried-and-true one-crazy-night template; a trio of likable leads, bolstered by gifted supporting actors; a director who’s shown skill combining comedy with more dramatic elements (the zombie Romeo and Juliet riff Warm Bodies and cancer dramedy 50/50); and the surprise delight of the forever-frowning Michael Shannon playing a stoned Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
The night in question is Christmas Eve, as three best friends embark on their last bro-out before Isaac (Rogen) becomes a father for the first time. They run through their regular ritual, first started when Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) was orphaned as a teenager: the Rockefeller tree, drunken karaoke, a Chinese feast, all while on the hunt for the Nutcracker Ball, a Valhalla-like secret party they’ve never been able to find. But this year’s different. They actually have tickets. And since Chris (Mackie) is now a famous football player, they’ve got a stretch Hummer to get them there. Also, Isaac’s super-chill wife (Bell, MVP with the hardest laugh line) has handed him a smorgasbord of drugs and full leave to party like there’s no tomorrow. What could possibly go wrong?
Turns out, not enough. This “one crazy night” taps out at lightly kooky; there’s nothing here that gets within striking distance of the sheer weirdness of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle or the darkness of After Hours, to name two genre stablemates. Motoring affably along from one comic set-piece to the next – and a few are very, very funny – The Night Before never falls apart, but it never really comes together, either. It’s a Christmas gift that’ll be forgotten by the time the wrapping paper hits the recycling bin.
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