The Austin Chronicle

The Night Before

Rated R, 101 min. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Ilana Glazer, Mindy Kaling, Michael Shannon, Nathan Fielder.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 20, 2015

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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