It takes hundreds of people to make a movie, but just two talents, actor Seth Rogen and writer Evan Goldberg, define the Christmas Eve-set romp “The Night Before.”
Rogen and Goldberg’s comic résumé sets “The Night Before” scene: “Superbad,” “Knocked Up,” “Pineapple Express,” “This Is the End.” Also last year’s banned by North Korea and, at least temporarily, movie non grata everywhere else, “The Interview.”
Rogen’s and Goldberg’s latest drug-spiked, off-color, over-the-top gift to moviegoers shines a holiday spotlight on the scene-swiping Rogen. Playing a guy in his early 30s who goes out on the town with two of his childhood friends on Christmas Eve, Rogen climbs to gonzo comedy heights.
Rogen stars as Isaac, friend of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Ethan and Anthony Mackie’s Chris. Gordon-Levitt and New Orleans native Mackie largely play straight men to Rogen’s perspiring, panicking mess on a hedonistic mission in New York City.
The Christmas Eve that Isaac, Chris and Ethan spend together in “The Night Before” is meant to be a last hurrah. Isaac, the least likely of these three to achieve adult responsibility, is a married man and soon-to-be father. So the guys’ all agree that this is the end of their annual Christmas Eve party marathon. They’re determined to make the most of it. “The Night Before” script etches the movie’s back story and scenario like a postcard. A scene that reveals the Gordon-Levitt character’s tragic past serves as a prelude, but it comes off as more a story-launching formality than something genuinely poignant.
Once the Christmas Eve action is set in motion, predictable high-jinks and misadventures, in the Rogen-Goldberg tradition, appear inevitable. But leave it to Rogen and his co-conspirator to push the limits of comedy and taste. They elevate “The Night Before” to a night to remember, not that Isaac will remember any of it.
Isaac and his friends are the movie’s principal characters, but writer-director Jonathan Levine (“50/50”) and screenwriters Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir and Goldberg are wise enough to write worthy supporting characters.
Comic actress Jillian Bell (“22 Jump Street,” “Goosebumps”) co-stars as Betsy, Isaac’s understanding to the point saintliness spouse. Bell delightfully plays off Rogen’s madness in some of the more outrageous scenes. Lorraine Toussaint, as Chris’ tell-it-like-is mom, generates laughs of her own.
Michael Shannon co-stars as the movie’s most important supporting player, Mr. Green. A marijuana-smoking and -dealing high school teacher, Mr. Green has a reunion with his former students and clients Isaac, Chris and Ethan. In clouds of pot smoke, Shannon’s dryly intoned, hippie-esque mysticism adds holiday magic to evening.
“The Night Before,” including some effective celebrity cameos, successfully transplants the Rogen-Goldberg comedy formula to the holiday movie tradition. It’s not everyone’s cup of egg nog, but definitely good for sizeable laughs.