Gather ’round, children, for the tale of three unwise men: Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie). They’re best friends with a long-standing Christmas Eve tradition—see the Rockefeller Center tree! Play the FAO Schwartz piano just like Tom Hanks in Big! Go crazy at a basement-karaoke dive!—in New York City. But this year, everything’s changing: Isaac is about to become a dad; pro football player Chris is busy living the brand-sponsored dream (Red Bull gives you wiiiiings); and orphaned, aimless Ethan is mostly busy pretending they haven’t both left him behind.
So, like grizzled bank robbers in a heist movie, they decide to go all-in for one last job. It helps that Ethan has “borrowed” tickets for the Nutcracka Ball, an invitation-only holiday blowout they’ve been trying to bluff their way into for more than a decade. And that Isaac’s saintly wife (Workaholics’ always-awesome Jillian Bell) has given them a Caligula gift bag of top-shelf narcotics—“I just went on Craigslist and put in ‘NYC drugs’”—for the final send-off.
What follows is a silly, stoned Turducken of a movie, stuffed with scattershot bro jokes and stacked with so many cameos (Mindy Kaling, Miley Cyrus, Tracy Jordan, Lizzy Caplan, Ilana Glazer, James Franco’s penis) that there’s hardly room for the main stars to do more than race from scene to scene in a blur of reindeer sweaters, wacky slapstick, and weed smoke. (The hydroponic comes from a drawling, Lebowski-esque dealer played by Michael Shannon, in the film’s best and weirdest role).
The Night Before isn’t really comparable at all to director Jonathan Levine’s last pair-up with Rogen and Gordon-Levitt, the thoughtful 2011 cancer dramedy 50/50. Still, in its own druggy, dick-pic way, it’s also a pretty endearing tribute to male friendship—hammy and crude and more baked than a fruitcake, but with a sweetly squishy holiday heart at its center. B