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"THE NIGHT BEFORE"
(2015) (Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Three thirty-something friends get together on Christmas to have one last wild night of holiday debauchery before moving on with their lives.
PLOT:
Fourteen Christmas seasons ago, Ethan (JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT) lost both of his parents to a drunk driver. Fresh out of high school, he fell into a deep depression that only his two best friends, Isaac (SETH ROGEN) and Chris (ANTHONY MACKIE), were able to lift him out of. They started a holiday tradition of going out on Christmas Eve, seeing the Rockefeller Center tree in Manhattan, eating Chinese food, and toe-tapping the big piano keys at the FAO Schwarz toy store. As they got older, the night also became about getting drunk, getting high, and getting into all sorts of naughty Yuletide mischief.

But now it's 2015, and Isaac is married to Betsy (JILLIAN BELL) and about to become a father for the first time. Chris, meanwhile, is a professional football player having his best season. Ethan is a failed musician, still pining for his old girlfriend, Diana (LIZZY CAPLAN), who he was never able to commit to. He understands that this Christmas Eve will be the last he, Isaac and Ethan partake in their tradition. So, he intends to make it a classic blowout, especially when he scores tickets to the Nutrcracker Ball, a mythic holiday party that is a cross between a beer-soaked fraternity bash and the extreme costume soiree of "Eyes Wide Shut."

Along the way, they have to score some marijuana from the enigmatic drug dealer Mr. Green (MICHAEL SHANNON); track down Chris' one-night-stand, Rebecca (ILANA GLAZER), who has stolen their pot; stop Isaac from taking so many drugs that he'll never come down; deal with Chris coming clean about using steroids to stay in the NFL; and retrieve Isaac's cell phone from Diana's angry best friend, Sarah (MINDY KALING).

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
When I was a younger man, I never knew! I never know that on Christmas Eve, hordes of single people -- and some not-so-single people -- living in the big cities go out on the town and party their brains out. Apparently it's a real thing. And there are a wide variety of people who partake, from people who don't have kids and just want to party to those who don't believe in Jesus Christ and treat it like any other night to those who have bad families to those whose families have splintered due to divorce, death, or other factors.

Why stay home and track Santa on NORAD or go to Midnight Mass and sing carols, when you can go hit the bars, get high, get hammered, get laid, get arrested, and get to sleep in the next day? The most titillating Christmas Eve I ever spent was watching 1947's "Miracle on 34th Street" colorized for the first time. Oooh, that Maureen O'Hara and her suddenly red hair. That lucky S.O.B. Fred Gailey.

But three guys who have been treating Christmas Eve as a night of debauchery for the past 14 years are Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie). Isaac and Chris started the tradition in 2001 to help their teenage friend, Ethan, pull out of his funk soon after a drunk driver killed both his parents. Their tradition has grown from a bit of innocent bar hopping in the early years to an annual quest for the Nutcracker Ball, a near-mythic Dec. 24 soiree that only the lucky and chosen few get invited to.

As the film opens, though, Isaac is on the verge of fatherhood for the first time, and Chris is a star player in the NFL. Both are ready to move on and embrace adulthood. Ethan accepts the change and sadly vows to make this last Christmas Eve together as bros, buds, and besties the greatest one yet. What follows is a cross between a "Harold and Kumar" movie with a "Hangover" flick. This is a hard, HARD R-rating, folks, that will be too raunchy and profane for some reading this ... but not for this reviewer. I laughed hard and often and even admired the honest, melancholy undertones running throughout. It really does feel like a last "Hurrah," and you legitimately become concerned that Ethan will be left behind.

The three leads work very well together, and you can believe they have been friends since high school. But the real standout -- and one of the best comic creations in years -- is Michael Shannon's drug dealer, Mr. Green. He shows up as a sort of stoner Clarence the Angel in three key scenes throughout, selling the guys marijuana that temporarily blasts one of them back to the past, one of them into the future, and the other into a heightened state of the present. Shannon brings the same creepy, oddball intensity to this comic part that he does to his dramatic roles in films as diverse as "99 Homes" and "Revolutionary Road." Mr. Green really does fashion himself a father figure to the kids he has sold drugs to since high school. I could watch a whole movie featuring this guy!

I do have some nitpicks, though. The film can't quite sustain its own comic momentum throughout. So much is being thrown at the map here, a few bits are bound to land with a thud and they do. Also, Rogen's Isaac is certainly hilarious, ingesting everything from cocaine to mushrooms to pot throughout. But he goes from 0 to 100 comic paranoid early in the film and doesn't really have anywhere to go. I would have preferred his high build throughout the film to get progressively funnier and funnier rather than swing for the fences early and often.

But so many funny bits land here, from a high Isaac making a cell-phone video in which he curses out his unborn daughter to Ethan battling two Bad Santas on the streets of New York. The church sequence mostly spoiled in the trailers and commercials is also comic gold. This is one of those "holiday" movies like "Bad Santa" or "The Ref" that you'll pop into your Blu-Ray player in years to come or call up on pay per view when you are feeling Yuletide naughty and not holiday nice. I rate it a 6.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 16, 2015 / Posted November 20, 2015


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