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“The Night Before” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

ART

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie team up for a modern-day, loose retelling of “A Christmas Carol,” that manages to raise the bar on raunch, yet fortunately doesn’t sacrifice laughs in doing so. The three stars make a likeable trio of inseparable homies, and as usual, Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves that he can headline any type of film.the-night-before-joseph-gordon-levitt-seth-rogen-anthony-mackie-slice-600x200

Three longtime friends in New York have spent Christmas Eve together, ever since the time they were teenagers. They engage in holiday traditions such as visiting Rockefeller Center, the Karaoke Bar and local drug dealer Mr. Green. Chris (Mackie) is now a famous football player, Isaac (Rogen) has a wife named Betsy (Jillian Bell) and a baby on the way, and Ethan (Gordon-Levitt) has a dead-end job as a coat-checking Christmas elf, and also happened to have just lost his girl, Diana (Lizzy Caplan). As the three friends seem to be drifting further apart because of their circumstances, they decide to have one last Christmas blowout, complete with ethnically-enhanced holiday sweaters, lots of drugs, and tickets to the holy grail of Christmas Eve parties (that Ethan managed to swipe from the coat of one of his former customers)!the-night-beforeTo be honest, I never actually expect to like a Seth Rogen comedy, yet I almost always wind up being pleasantly surprised by vehicles that are tailor-made to his talents. And there’s no shortage of antics here for the jolly guy in the Christmas…err…Hanukkah sweater with the Star of David embroidered on his chest! The 33-year-old comic actor gives a tour-de-force performance as Isaac spends most of the night having a really bad, but hilarious “trip” due to being given a gift-wrapped variety box of illegal substances by his wife as he heads out with his friends (you can’t make things like this up). At the very least, it makes for an amusing night of confusion for the expectant father as he’s either trying to figure out why “James” is sexting him (he accidentally swapped phones with a girl at a bar) or he’s running out of a midnight mass because he’s afraid of religious persecution (i.e. “We didn’t kill Jesus!”)

Rogen

Thankfully, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance of a lovesick slacker manages to balance out some of the crazy. Of course, his character runs into his old flame repeatedly during the night, and you just know that there are cupids at work on both sides of the equation, such as Diana’s best friend Sarah (Mindy Kaling), who really wants to get her phone back! Anthony Mackie, a fine dramatic actor, shows why he was cast in this film – to be the voice of reason for his two friends. He does manage to get some laughs in as well, especially in his scene with Mr. Green (Michael Shannon), a drug-dealing reaper of sorts that each one of our heroes must face throughout the course of the night. I was absolutely shocked when I realized Michael Shannon was in this film, and it’s a fantastic and funny change of pace role for this terrific actor.the-night-before-body-image-1 Gordon-Levitt and Rogen reunite with Director Jonathan Levine, who helmed their first teaming in 2011’s comedy-drama “50/50.” Not much drama to be seen here, but the two have an obvious chemistry with one another and Levine knows how to bring out the best in it. And, yes, it was produced by Evan Goldberg, who is behind just about every single Seth Rogen movie that ever was. One thing that I have noticed about these collaborations, is that they are constantly raising the bar when it comes to obscenity or irreverence, but somehow when it is delivered by likeable performers such as these, the negative connotations tend to take a backseat to all-out fun.

*** (three out of four stars)

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