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With: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Mindy Kaling, Michael Shannon, Ilana Glazer, Tracy Morgan, James Franco, Miley Cyrus
Written by: Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg, based on a story by Jonathan Levine
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
MPAA Rating: R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity
Running Time: 101
Date: 11/20/2015

The Night Before (2015)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Nicely Naughty

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The naughty Christmas comedy is a tradition like the Christmas horror/slasher movie; both genres touch on something naughty to give the Nice a little perspective.

The Night Before — opening Friday in Bay Area theaters — doesn't offer anything new, and other movies like it have been funnier, but it has a genuine heart. After all is said and done, the characters have perhaps earned their little bit of nice time.

In 2001, just before Christmas, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his parents in a drunk driving accident. His two best friends, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), show up on Christmas Eve to cheer him up with a little misbehaving and a little friendship.

That night became a tradition, evolving into a search for the ultimate Christmas party, the super-secret Nutcracker Ball.

The friends have agreed that this year's outing will be the final one — Isaac's wife (Jillian Bell) is about to have a baby and Chris's football career has made him into a recognizable celebrity — and they hope to go out with a bang.

Directed and co-written by Jonathan Levine, the characters have fairly simple arcs to follow: Isaac isn't sure he's ready for fatherhood, Ethan pines over a lost love he wasn't ready to commit to, and Chris' sudden fame seems to have gone to his head.

When The Night Before builds jokes out of these character arcs, the humor rarely flies. For example, Isaac dips into a box of assorted drugs throughout the movie (with the usual "freakout" moments), and Chris provides transportation in a giant limo, emblazoned with a "Red Bull" logo. Even if these jokes succeed in the naughty department, they're not terribly surprising.

This movie's closest cousin, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, cleverly balanced its humorous contradictions throughout, pitting zaniness against stability, dreams against reality. The Night Before simply follows a straight line.

But what The Night Before really has going for it is an organic family feel between its three leads; they're like three corners of a triangle, nicely complimenting and completing one another. (It helps that Rogen and Gordon-Levitt already bonded in Levine's terrific 50/50.)

No matter what happens, they all love each other and they love Christmas. A bonus is the presence of Michael Shannon as "Mr. Green," a helpful drug dealer who arrives by way of Dickens and Capra.

Excepting his appearance in a weird little epilogue, he wraps up The Night Before as a satisfying stocking stuffer.

Sony/Columbia Pictures' Blu-ray release comes with lots of funny extras: a few deleted scenes, a short gag reel, several short featurettes, and previews. Picture and sound are fine. The release also includes a digital copy.

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