Credit hit-and-miss holiday comedy The Night Before for the courage of its dick-pic convictions. The first couple hit the screen as the usual wan transgression, like the filmmakers believe there's still Margaret Dumonts around to gasp. But for once the movie camera doesn't shy away from what our real-life cameras see so often. Seth Rogen doesn't either. The Night Before stars the game-for-anything near-adult Rogen of Neighbors, who was up for jolly stream-crossing watersports with Zac Efron, and not the shrill, sour oaf behind The Interview. His schmo here is flattered and impressed when, tripping on mushrooms, he gets texted a surprise junk shot. After a couple of admiring responses, and a couple more dicks, Rogen (let's not bother pretending his characters' names matter) gets asked if he'd like to handle it. Rather than blanch, he beams.
That's a sort of one-act illustration of the tension in all Rogen's comedies: If his characters so relish the company of men, why not go whole hog? But it's not exactly funny. In fact, it was only The Night Before's fifth or sixth dick that got me laughing, the one where it's a scene's giddy capper, played like yet another gotcha celebrity cameo.
That run of jokes is The Night Before in essence. Here's a cohort of likable guys -- Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- doing the things you expect in Rogen films: hanging, laughing, toking, rapping old songs, learning life lessons already learned in other Rogen films. At first the laughs are Hangover III–spare and the picture is too shambling to lunge for them. But these leftovers warm up eventually, with the usual setups at last developing some winning variations.