Far from a Christmas comedy classic nor a lump of coal, The Night Before gives us a drug fueled holiday happening from the team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They’ve penned better work in the form of Superbad, Pineapple Express, and This is the End and this is more on the level (though not tone) of the hit or miss humor of The Interview.
Before centers on three friends who have a Christmas Eve tradition of spending their time together after Ethan’s (Joseph Gordon Levitt) parents died. His supportive buddies are Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) and they’ve agreed that their 14th year of buddying up will be their last. Isaac is married and ready to become a first time dad and Chris is a famous NFL player. Their lives are moving on while Ethan remains aimless, especially after a recent breakup with the lovely Lizzy Caplan. The boys make sure their final excursion is hopefully a memorable one when Ethan scores tickets to the Nutcracker Ball, an NYC kick ass bash they’ve only heard about in mythological terms.
Getting there is a challenge for many reasons. Isaac’s wife (Jillian Bell, who stole scenes in 22 Jump Street and does here) gives him a night to let his freak flag fly and that means lots of narcotics. Chris gets caught up with the wrong woman and is preoccupied with impressing his newer celebrity friends. Ethan is struggling with the knowledge that life’s traditions are changing.
While The Night Before is centered on these sometimes not so wise men, some supporting players shine. This holds especially true for Michael Shannon’s drug dealer character, who seems to possess powers even more potent than his weed. Mindy Kaling amusingly turns up and there’s some fairly effective (if obvious) celebrity cameos sprinkled in.
The proceedings don’t really pick up steam until close to the hour mark and what comes before it is often ho (ho) hum. Ethan and Chris’s storylines are just OK and the biggest guffaws come from Isaac on his pharmaceutically fueled journey. One wonders how good this could’ve been if it focused solely on him. The Night Before has its laughs to be sure, but it’s on the lower end of what these writers have accomplished before.
**1/2 (out of four)