“The Night Before” Movie Review


     There’s nothing really new or groundbreaking in writer/director Jonathan Levine’s “The Night Before”.  For all the promises of a Christmas story that will require annual viewing simply because it’s that good, the film instead just chugs along with much of the same antics done numerous times before with the people involved both in front of and behind the camera.  Essentially, this is a guys night out holiday tale that has Seth Rogan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie playing a trio whose Christmas Eve traditions are fueled by an all night binge on alcohol, drugs, and sex.  They meet a number of quirky characters along the way.  They reach the inevitable point where they each decide to go there separate ways.  And they reconcile just in time to attend the ultimate Christmas party that has alluded them since they began their yearly all nighter when one of them needed a shoulder to cry on.

     Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost both of his parents in a tragic accident years ago and as we are shown in a flashback sequence, his two best friends, Isaac (Seth Rogan) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) knocked on his door on Christmas Eve and took him out on the town in an effort to help him cope and maybe even have some fun.  Their Christmas Eve plan has always included heading to the toy store to play the giant piano (like in the movie “Big”), seeing the giant Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, and eating Chinese food at their favorite joint.  But what they have always attempted to seek out, still remains their biggest goal.  A secret underground party on Christmas Eve called the Nutcracka Ball, said to be the Holy Grail of Christmas parties, is where they want to end their night and this time around, Ethan has scored three tickets.

     The trio has decided this will be their last all night pre Christmas shindig because of the upcoming changes in each of their lives.  Though Ethan remains lost and still working odd jobs, Chris is now a wealthy NFL football player and Isaac and his wife, Betsy (Jillian Bell), are expecting their first child.  Betsy in particular is happily supportive of Isaac and his friend’s last attempt at their time honored Christmas tradition.  So much so that she rewards Isaac with a smorgasbord of recreational drugs, everything from mushrooms to cocaine, for he and his friends to apparently enjoy as they live it up.  Chris, who has been recently sponsored by Red Bull, pulls up in a giant stretched limo and the group begins with their first stop at the Rockefeller Center.  Problem is, Isaac has started in on the mushrooms and this is where we get the typical over the top drug infused performance from Rogan that he has done in nearly all of his films.  You know the voice.  The one where he’s both yelling and whispering at an incredibly rapid pace, spouting off gibberish that no one is really paying attention to.  This goes on for nearly the entire film, leaving both Mackie and Gordon-Levitt as coming off kinda boring.

     Aside from their traditional stops, Ethan is also faced with running into his ex girlfriend at a club they frequent.  Diana (Lizzy Caplan) has broken off her relationship with Ethan because of his lack of commitment, but the early scenes between the two indicate the over used plot device that has a rocky relationship suddenly mending after both have an epiphany is obviously in play, leading to a predictable outcome.  Same goes for Chris’ storyline in which he is finally a good enough player on his team to be noticed by the star quarterback, as he is willing to do anything in order to get in with the popular guys in the locker room.  This has the boys going off the beat and path a few times to score some weed from an oddball drug dealer named Mr. Green (Michael Shannon).  Shannon’s character may be the most well drawn in the story, but his appearances are limited to a couple scenes involving the pot transaction.

     When they finally do arrive at the Nutcracka Ball, you have to wonder if they really felt everything they went through to get there was worth it.  Truth be told, it looks like the interior of your average club in Vegas, but maybe people who live in New York City are deprived of such things making the experience more unique then one would think.  But hey, Miley Cyrus performs live to the delight of Ethan and Diana so maybe this is the party to be at on Christmas Eve.  Or perhaps this is merely a celebration and reunion of the cast of last year’s “The Interview” since along with Rogan we have Caplan, Randall Park, and James Franco joining in the fun and endless dick jokes, drug use, and rants about religion, relationships, and partying.  Everything in “The Night Before” is familiar in a not so good way, which means the characters are merely carbon copies of roles they have played before in better films, leading to more eye rolls than genuine laughs.  This is the risk the filmmakers take when each year, and sometimes twice a year, they concoct an unoriginal story that panders to the strengths of the same actors each time.  We already know Seth Rogan and James Franco are really good at pretending to be on drugs, but what else do they got?  GRADE: D