“The Night Before” reunites Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen with director Jonathan Levine, who directed them both in the fact-based, cancer dramedy “50/50.” If that whets your appetite, prepare to be seriously disappointed. “The Night Before” aspires to the same lofty artistic heights of “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas,” and is hampered only by the minor glitch that they forgot to put jokes in it.
Gordon-Levitt plays Ethan, whose parents were killed in by a drunk driver at Christmas time a decade earlier, and was taken out on Christmas Eve by his high school buddies, Isaac (Rogen) and football hero Chris (Anthony Mackie) for a night of hard drinking. They’ve reunited every Christmas Eve since, but Chris and Isaac have decided this year has to be the last one. Isaac is married, and his preternaturally understanding wife (Jillian Bell) is nine months pregnant. Chris is an NFL player having his best season ever – with the help of steroids. Ethan, a perennially needy underachiever who’s recently broken up with his longtime girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan), is determined to find a way to crash an almost mythical annual, invitation-only Christmas party called The Nutcracka Ball.
Ethan’s wish comes true when working his latest temp job, as a coat-check elf, he finds – and steals – three tickets to the bash. The tickets have a phone number that tells callers that the location of the party will be announced at 10:00 PM, which leaves our heroes plenty of time to scamper and caper about the streets and bars of New York in a variety of pre-game activities and let a number of cameos drift in and out like pixel ninjas in a video game.
“The Night Before” takes a premise that could be the basis of the Hallmark TV Christmas movie, and adds the trappings of an R-rated shock comedy. It isn’t a happy marriage, and it isn’t helped by the fact that the shock comedy elements aren’t original. George Bernard Shaw wrote that the definition of comedy is the unexpected juxtaposition of incongruities. There are plenty of incongruities in “The Night Before,” but none of them are unexpected. They show the scene where Rogen barfs in the middle of a crowded church in the trailers, which isn’t necessarily the movie’s fault, but only someone who’s never seen a movie before would be surprised that things go south when the strung-out, Jewish Isaac joins his wife’s straight-laced family for midnight mass.
Anthony Mackie is largely wasted in an underdeveloped role that sadly had potential. Gordon-Levitt is perfectly believable as a needy nebbish although it’s anyone’s guess what convinced him to do this in the same year he starred in the fine Robert Zemeckis outing, “The Walk.”
Seth Rogen yet again plays a youngish man-child type who deals with the impending terrors of adulthood by getting stoned. If you find the mere sight of a grown man standing stoned out of his mind on a variety of illegal, recreational drugs funny, Seth Rogen will leave you rolling in the aisles, convulsed by uncontrollable laughter. If you’re over the age of sixteen, probably not so much. Rogen is treading on territory here it would be charitable to call well-worn. Granted that everyone has to make a living, it’s frankly a little shocking that Rogen hasn’t gotten sick of this schtick by now, and it’s got to wear out its welcome with even the most undemanding audiences eventually.
Spotting the cameos and supporting roles is often more entertaining than the plot. Tracy Morgan’s voice is heard early, only to be revealed as Santa later on. Lizzy Caplan (“Hot Tub Time Machine,” “127 Hours,” TV’s “Masters of Sex”) plays Ethan’s dissatisfied ex. Ilana Glazer (TV’s “Broad City”) steals some scenes as a libidinous scam artist who complicates Chris’ life. Miley Cyrus plays herself, and apparently thinks she’s cool for it. James Franco, whose entire career as deteriorated into a floating SNL skit, again plays himself, and frankly, not that well. As a drug dealer who functions as the movie’s equivalent of Dickens’ ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Michael Shannon’s low-key, nuanced performance is the only surprise this crass, pedestrian and unimaginative effort has to offer.
“The Night Before” is now showing at theaters across the Capital District, including the Regal Cinemas Clifton Park Stadium 10 & RPX, the Regal Cinemas Colonie Center Stadium 13 & RPX, the Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Bow Tie Cinemas Movieland in Schenectady, the Regal Cinemas East Greenbush 8, the Rotterdam Square Cinema and the Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas 11 & BTX in Saratoga Springs.