The Night Before

“This is the kind of movie that’s so bad, you gotta tell someone about it.” Can’t take credit for that, as it was my viewing companion, but she’s dead-on. The Night Before is a putative Christmas comedy that’s putrid in execution and puts the rank in rank amateur.

Three stoner dramatis personae have a tradition, as mindless as whoever concocted this as a plot device: to hang out and get blotto together on Christmas (and also to try and seek passage to an exclusive party, The Nutcrackers Ball).

Their leader is soon-to-be-dad Isaac (a frumpy-dump Seth Rogan), so if this is a Hero’s Journey, this is more of the sandwich variety. Milking the lazy stupefied Peter Pan-t-load mien he’s come to adopt in just about everything, Rogan’s Isaac is terrified at the prospect of growing up and pending fatherhood. His wife, sensing this, enables Isaac in a kind of last night of freedom: giving him a container full of pharmaceuticals so he and his pals can cut loose Hangover-style, minus the charm, direction or the comic timing.

That an 8 month-along mom-to-be would do something that stupid beggars belief, but even dumber, that her “rock,” (“Like Dwayne Johnson”, she ‘jokes’. Seinfeld eat your heart out) would actually indulge….well, that’s the set up, for a movie that’s so tonally off, it needs a tuning fork, and is about as enjoyable as a set of cymbals clanged upside your noggin.

The usually reliable Joseph Gordon Levitt (Ethan) cuts a wan, labored Kevin Spacey figure as a loser who’s still hung up on an ex years later and resorts to side hustle work as a Santa elf (he’s even the butt of a joke: “a 33-year old elf?” In terms of age-inappropriate behavior, though, he gets off easy)

And to round out the idiot triumvirate (the name “Three Stooges” is already taken) is Chris (Anthony Mackie), a star NFLer, who — and kudos here for the realism — is suddenly a breakout star due to banned substances.

The Night Before features repugnant bathroom sex, steroid abuse, dick pics, a nose-bleed into a Martini, projectile vomiting during midnight mass, and a host of indignities too numerous to be unaccompanied by even the slimmest shred of wit or joy. And also James Franco and Miley Cyrus. The state rests, your honor.

As willfully ugly as a Christmas sweater, and as actively repellent as any comedy ever made.

* (out of 5)

House

An American Ghost Story, Sinister, The Shining — there are a spate of movies about writers seeking solitude in a house, only to find the exact opposite. House is different it in that it throws in a dash of vetsploitation flavor, while employing practical monsters rather than the usual phantasmagoria as the personal demons.

House’s protagonist Roger Cobb should’ve heeded this advice: Don’t go in the house (also the title of a fab pyro-horror).

Where “horror has a new home,” House features that 80s genre staple: the cheesy prologue. Young Rog walks into a bedroom to find his aunt has hanged herself (it’s actually quite an affecting scene, as the old lady is creakily swinging to and fro).

Undeterred, Rog grows up to occupy the house as an adult — a successful trash novelist looking to get serious with a memoirs detailing his experiences in ‘Nam.

These horror people. When will they ever learn? Never rent bad Mojo domiciles, even if they seem like a steal, even in a tight rental / buyers’ market. Nothing good will ever come of it — unless you flip it real quick before you’re sucked into the Nether World.

So, what distinguishes this house, from any other on the market? There’s its foundation, built on a top-notch cast that includes William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, and Kay Lenz. Wendt (Norm from Cheers) is the jovial neighbor who happens by to ask if everything’s alright at the Cobb house (Rog has been dressing in army fatigues and has set up camera equipment to capture a monster lurking in the closet). Moll, the towering bailiff from TV’s Night Court, plays Rog’s Vietnam war buddy who appears in flashback (At 6’8, there’s one infantryman who’d be quite the sitting duck for the Viet Cong).

Ultimately, House is a middling fun, tongue-in-cheek haunted house creature feature. Similar in sensibility to Video Dead, it’s solid if unspectacular sick day viewing.

**3/4 (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of House on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]