Just in time for those starving for holiday entertainment alternatives to an umpteenth viewing of Scrooged, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street or Elf comes The Night Before, a reasonably sweet-spirited bromantic stoner raunch fest about three buds played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie.
It seems the trio — as explained in a Christmas Carol-style introduction by Tracy Morgan — have spent every Christmas Eve together, raising hell at the same spots, since the death of the parents of Gordon-Levitt’s character over a decade ago. But time has marched on and even boy-men grow up, whether or not they want to. Rogen is a married lawyer and a panicky father-to-be. Mackie is a steroid-enhanced, social media-obsessed football star. And Gordon-Levitt is a struggling musician stuck in neutral, working a stream of temp jobs, single after a breakup with his girlfriend (Lizzy Caplan). For what may their final blast together, they score three tickets to “The Nutrcracka Ball,” the year’s hottest party, and, on a crawl that includes hilarious stops in a synagogue and a bar, they encounter the usual pack of cameos, very few of whom threaten to steal the film from Rogen.
Rogen is in especially good form as a guy who gets more and more whacked out as he pops a Santa’s bag full of drugs his wife (the wonderful Jillian Bell) has given him as a gift. It’s a pretty flimsy committee-written screenplay by scribes including director Jonathan Levine (50/50), stocked with the usual low-hanging fruit: gay and bi jokes, stoner humor, ‘80s and ‘90s pop culture references. But all is forgiven when Rogen goes into drug-induced high gear and, even better, when (a flat-out brilliant) Michael Shannon shows up as a shark-eyed pot dealer who provides the three stars with Charles Dickens-esque hallucinations of Christmas past, present and future, courtesy of some righteous THC. Sure, things get warm and mushy at the finale as the guys do their growing-up-and-moving-on thing, but at least The Night Before is merry and bright enough to keep you from being sorry the morning after.