Gags fall flat as Christmas cracker fails to snap
THE NIGHT BEFORE (15)
Ding dong merrily, get high. So sayeth The Night Before, a drug-fuelled comedy of errors in which a trio of friends encounter the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future during a madcap quest to attend a secret yuletide party called The Nutcracker Ball.
En route to this nirvana of free-flowing booze and dancing girls, the luckless central characters endure interludes drenched in bad taste humour and rediscover their brotherly love by overcoming outrageous misfortune on the snow-laden streets of New York.
Four screenwriters stoke the escalating madness with a colourful cameo from Miley Cyrus and the obligatory smattering of pop culture references.
Thus when a thief covers her tracks by throwing tiny toy cars on the pavement so her pursuers take a tumble, one bruised pothead shrieks, 'She Home Alone-d me!'
There's a glimmer of genuine sweetness beneath the tomfoolery, which occasionally casts a warm glow over characters as they learn valuable lessons about the power of friendship to overcome every obstacle.
However, we've seen this lunacy many times before from leading man Seth Rogen, most notably in the delightful buddy comedy Pineapple Express, which demonstrated a similar affection for illegal substances as an escape from reality.
Santa Claus (Tracy Morgan) narrates the sorry tale of Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac Greenberg (Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie), who have spent Christmas Eve together since 2001, when Ethan became an orphan.
Fourteen years later, the men have grown apart and realise they must bid farewell to festive tradition.
Chris is a superstar American football player, who secretly injects steroids to compete with teammates including star quarterback Tommy Owens (Aaron Hill).
Isaac has an adoring wife, Betsy (Jillian Bell), who couldn't be more proud of his transition from goofball to expectant father.
'You've been my rock through this whole pregnancy,' she coos. 'You're my Dwayne Johnson.'
As for Ethan, he has recently split from long-term girlfriend Diana (Lizzy Caplan) because he refused to commit.
He now realises that he wants Diana back, but she is footloose and fancy free, flanked by best friend Sarah (Mindy Kaling).
The lads go out in a blaze of glory by attending the most exclusive party in New York, armed with pot procured from avuncular local dealer Mr Green (Michael Shannon).
Needless to say, the festivities don't unfold as planned.
The Night Before has some amusing moments, but gags fall horribly flat more often than they hit their target.
Isaac's hallucinogenic misadventures grow tiresome at alarming speed and the hare-brained theft of a horse-drawn carriage is missing a punchline.
Rogen plays to type but Gordon-Levitt and Mackie bring a touching vulnerability to their wide boys, who are their own worst enemies.
Jonathan Levine's film is a Christmas cracker missing its snap.