THE NIGHT BEFORE (2015) – The Review
Good golly Miss Holly, the big bird’s not in the oven and here we’ve got the second Christmas movie exploding onto screens across the country. Yes, the stench of LOVE THE COOPERS is still wafting through the multiplex as this new holiday comedy debuts. But there’s a big difference, well several really. This new comedy definitely and defiantly earns its ‘R’ rating, this thanks in part to its main star, the new king of “stoner”, slacker comedies, Mr. Seth Rogen. After flexing his dramatic muscles in STEVE JOBS as Steve Wozniak, he’s returned to his comfort zone as part of a comedy trio this time out. He’s re-united (and it feels so good) with a former co-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The two were memorable best buds in 2011’s (can it really be four years?) 50/50. And rounding out the threesome, is a survivor of the COOPERS catastrophe, Anthony Mackie (hey, he’s an Avenger!). Now this holiday doesn’t all take place on the morning of December 25th, but rather the time that many folks do their main celebrating, on THE NIGHT BEFORE.
The story begins many, many nights prior to the title. About a dozen or so years really, when twenty year old Ethan (Levitt) lost both parents in a pre-Christmas car crash. His very bestest buddies Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) made a pledge that they would always be there for Ethan every Christmas Eve. The evening of the 24th became an annual night of debauchery for the threesome. On the first night of boozing they hear of a legendary holiday party, the “Nutcracker Ball”, a colossal orgy only accessible through very-prized secret invitations. The boys vowed to acquire an invite, but every year ends in failure. Jump ahead to today, as the friends prepare for what will mostly likely be their final Eve together. Isaac is about to begin a family with his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell), actually she may give birth before this night’s over. And Chris is now a famous NFL star (thanks to some…ahem…chemical enhancement), making it tough to go on the town with the buds. Luckily, while working a temp gig, Ethan scores three NB tickets. As the fellows await the party location (at 10 PM they dial a phone number for the spot), they meet many strange characters and have several bizarre adventures during this last epic “night before”.
Of the trio, the main focus, the “plot propeller” is likable everyman Gordon-Levitt, whose Ethan is still an oddly adrift thirty-something. We get that he’s searching for something (romance, career), but just can’t zero in on it. Much as he did in the delightful, but astoundingly unseen THE WALK, Gordon-Levitt’s considerable charms endear him to us, even as his character makes some shaky choices. Plus he has a great “elf face”. Rogen has a different sort of charm, more like the hard-charging frat brother we wanted to hang out with. Isaac’s a bit more mature than many of his “man-child” roles, here best seen in his utter panic over the prospect of impending fatherhood, believing that he’ll mess up his offspring (which makes for a very funny fantasy flash-forward). He’s given permission to indulge by his wife who even presents him a box of assorted…goodies. His over-indulgence leads to Rogen’s intense “I’m still in control” wide-eyed stare that is simply hysterical. Beside having great chemistry with the guys, Rogen’s a terrific partner to the scene-stealing Bell (so wonderful in GOOSEBUMPS and 22 JUMP STREET). She adores her addled hubby, but will cut him to the quick with a look or with her acid tongue. Somebody give Bell a starring film role, now please! Mackie’s very convincing as the fame-obsessed athlete. Happily he’s allowed to use his high energy comic timing, with none of the shackles from that recent Christmas clunker present. Much like the Rogen 2013 hit THIS THE END, this movie is stuffed to the gills with familiar comedians and comic actors, but to name them would be to spoil the surprises (don’t wanna’ unwrap those gifts under the tree now). I will hint that an actor who gave two terrific dramatic performances earlier this year shines as a most magical pot dealer. Oh, and Miley Cyrus is a hoot as herself , tweaking (but not twerking) her tabloid image.
Oh, the director of 50/50, Jonathan Levine is back with Seth and JGL, too. He’s part of the script team along with Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and Evan Goldberg (another 50/50 alumni). There’s some great jokes about holiday classics (including the original DIE HARD,yeah!), but the story really is just a lot a winter-themed set-ups and set pieces, often haphazardly strung together making the film into a tinsel-filled AFTER HOURS. Sure, many of the gags fall flat, but the ones that score make the bumps in the pacing bearable. Just be aware of that rating, as a bit concerning switched cell phones gets really, really graphic. Like most film comedies there’s that lull and lag about the one hour mark, right before a nice pay-off that touches on the somewhat serious message of letting go and moving on. Yes, it’s hit or miss, but these three not-so-wise men will stuff your stockings with lots of laughs and a bit of heart on THE NIGHT BEFORE.
3.5 Out of 5