‘Tis clearly the season for holiday movies. No sooner did we digest last week’s Christmas flick Love The Coopers along comes another yuletide offering called The Night Before. But if you think this one is going to be full of cheer and good tidings like most movies of this ilk, think again. We are talking here about a Christmas movie starring Seth Rogen! Take away the trappings of this genre and you really have a film much closer in spirit to Pineapple Express, This Is The End or last year’s ill-fated Rogen vehicle The Interview than to It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle On 34th Street. This one might be more appropriately titled Messed Up On 34th Street.

pete hammond review badgeAs I say in my video review (click the link above to watch) this is pure Rogen raunch, blissfully, for much of the film, which predictably is full of hit-and-miss comic setups — although I have to admit the guy sitting next to me at the preview was in hysterics through the whole thing. Seth fans won’t be disappointed, but don’t confuse any of this with fine family holiday fare.

The plot revolves around three lifelong friends who have spent the last 10 years of Christmas Eves together on the town in New York City partying hard in every sense of the term. Rogen plays Isaac, a married man whose wife is now pregnant. Anthony Mackie is Chris, a well-known pro football player, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Ethan, a young man who lost his parents and just broke up with girlfriend (Lizzy Caplan). Somehow he manages to get his hands a hot ticket: three invites to the legendary and elusive Nutcracka Ball. This is their ultimate destination for what these three feel will probably be the last Christmas Eve they get to spend with total abandon.

The only problem is the address isn’t on the invites and they have to find the right place as they traverse the streets of Manhattan. This being a Seth Rogen movie (he also produced with Evan Goldberg and James Weaver), you can bet the drug and sex gags will be freewheeling — and they are. But one of the unquestioned highlights is when the boys come upon that giant piano Tom Hanks played in Big. This leads to a great musical sequence among the three and is representative of the goofy anything-goes nature of the whole movie which was directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Levine, Goldberg, Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter. Some of the best gags of course belong to Rogen, particularly one in which he receives a texted photo of a male organ from a mystery guy named James, followed by hilarious texts back and forth until the bit is finally paid off with a surprise star cameo. If you have seen previous Rogen outings, you can probably take an educated guess at who that might be.

The film is bookended by storybook-style narration from Tracy Morgan which tends to set up the whole thing as a completely warm and innocent story of three friends who may not be three wise men, but are likeable lunks nonetheless. The film even displays some real warmth towards the end which is probably obligatory for any Christmas movie, even one as perversely funny as this one wants to be. For me though the film is stolen, lock stock and barrel, by Michael Shannon, absolutely riotous as their longtime pot dealer. He comes off as a guy who may just have smoked a little too much of that weed himself. Funny stuff. Shannon can do anything and I am there.

Sony Pictures releases the film Friday just in time to ring in the holidays. Do you plan to see The Night Before? Let us know what you think.