The Night Before

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a full-blown mushroom/coke trip. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie star in The Night Before.

The Night BeforeCast of Characters:
Ethan – Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Isaac – Seth Rogen
Chris Roberts – Anthony Mackie
Diana – Lizzy Caplan
Betsy – Jillian Bell
Sarah – Mindy Kaling
Mr. Green – Michael Shannon
Mrs. Roberts – Lorraine Toussaint

Director – Jonathan Levine
Screenplay – Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine & Ariel Shaffir
Producer – Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen & James Weaver
Rated R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity

Fourteen years ago, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his parents on Christmas Eve, and every year since then, his two best pals Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have made an annual tradition of sharing the day with him in support. Today, however, with Chris becoming a mega-famous football star and Issac on the verge of becoming a dad, the three have decided to end their tradition, but not before hitting the town and having one last memorable Christmas Eve in New York City.

Despite turning in an impressive supporting performance this year in Steve Jobs, Seth Rogen has unfortunately turned in a post-This Is the End one-two punch of comic mediocrity with Neighbors and The Interview, the latter causing all that hubbub with North Korea and their clearly insecure bitch of a president. Fret not, though, ’cause The Night Before has him teaming up once again with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jonathan Levine, his co-star and director of 50/50, which featured one of Rogen’s best performances and was one of the best films of 2011.

Neither of which applies to The Night Before.

This now makes three consecutive bland comedies for Rogen. If it’s three strikes and you’re out in baseball, I think we can call this at least a mild slump.

Now, in fairness to Rogen, the film is at its funniest when its focused on the relationship between him and his two pals played by Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie. The chemistry between the three helps form a believable lifelong friendship; however, the story navigates down too many bizarre, uneven detours that distract from the primary element that could’ve made this a consistently funny, raunchy/buddy flick. When the film dares to separate the three into doing their own little mini-adventures, the film loses its luster.

What’s most surprising about the off-putting tone is that co-writer/director Jonathan Levine has proven before quite well how skilled he is in mixing disparate tones. The aforementioned 50/50 blended cancer drama with a buddy comedy tastefully without holding back on the raunchy humor, while also never treating its highly serious subject matter lightly. Warm Bodies was a charming mix of zombie horror and romantic comedy. The Night Before has its moments of earned hilarity, but for a good portion of the movie, it’s a wildly unfocused mess, trying desperately to be a whimsical/hallucinatory Christmas-themed Hangover with all the crazy mishaps the three leading men keep getting themselves into.

Those said mishaps range from shock value solely for the sake of being shocking, an irritating gal who keeps stealing Mackie’s weed and attacking him with booby traps out of the Home Alone playbook, and some of the most strangely fantastical scenes you’ll ever see Michael Shannon take part in (Shannon’s first scene could’ve been a great cameo appearance, but his character soon overstays his welcome).

For a man like Levine who did so well with 50/50 and Warm Bodies, it’s disappointing how he somehow managed to mishandle this film.

Most of the cast really tries here, particularly Gordon-Levitt and Mackie (though, steroids or not, I don’t buy for one second that his Chris Roberts would’ve lasted so long in the NFL as a nobody and then – POOF!! – he’s a star in his mid-’30s). Rogen, unfortunately, is saddled with acting out a never-ending drug trip that lasts for nearly most of the movie (yeah, I know, what a surprise, but his performances in 50/50, Steve Jobs, Funny People and even Knocked Up proved he’s got more range in him than he gets credit for). The shtick is good for a few laughs at first, but there’s only so far they can carry what is essentially one joke. The lovely Lizzy Caplan is also an unfortunate victim of poor characterization as the thinly drawn “girl who got away” Gordon-Levitt still mopes over.

The Night Before earns what laughs it does get thanks to its talented lead cast, but it’s unfortunate that, despite a strong start, it collides into a distracting barrage of dopey side characters and gags that diminishes the strength found in the relationship between Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Mackie. Even with a cast this good and a proven director running the show, out of all the Christmas-themed flicks that have come and gone, The Night Before will wind up being one of the more forgettable.

I give The Night Before a C (★★½).

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