Getting a jump on the holiday season, “The Night Before” stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie as longtime friends having one final Christmas Eve blowout before Rogen’s impending fatherhood puts a crimp in their collective ability to hang. If you’ve seen any of Rogen’s movies, you can guess where things go from there: Stops are pulled out, lessons learned, adulthood grudgingly come to terms with. But according to the first reviews, the movie’s predictability can be a strength, fitting it into a long line of classic holiday films, from “A Christmas Carol” to “Scrooged,” although none of them feature a protagonist in a gloriously dorky Hanukkah sweater.
Directed by “Warm Bodies” and “50/50’s” Jonathan Levine, who co-wrote with Rogen and his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg, “The Night Before” boasts a tantalizing cast, from Michael Shannon as a Jacob Marley-esque drug dealer who offers to sell the trio “the weed of Christmas past, the weed of Christmas present, and the weed of Christmas future,” to Jillian Bell and Mindy Kaling, who fortunately aren’t playing the kind of uptight buzzkills that women are often relegated to in Rogen’s films. Critics are split on whether the movie offers anything new to Rogen’s substantial canon of comically stunted manchildren, but it executes the formula well, even if it doesn’t transcend it.
Nick Schager, Variety
Seth Rogen takes the high holidays literally in “The Night Before,” a raucous drug-fueled ode to the seasonal spirit’s power to help man-children mature into responsible adults. Little more than a Christmas-y spin on many of the actor’s prior comedies, Jonathan Levine’s film nonetheless generates significant humor from its tale of three lifelong friends who come together on Dec. 24 for one last night of go-for-broke New York revelry — this time with the aim of finally attending the renowned Nutcracka Ball that has for the past 14 years eluded them. Brimming with R-rated naughtiness before, per formula, turning far too nice, it’s a profanely festive odyssey.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
A would-be Christmas blowout for three childhood friends on the cusp of growing up (and growing apart) doesn’t lead to much comedic combustion in “The Night Before,” a so-so stoner film where the premise is almost always better than the execution. A who’s-who of likeable actors tries to produce an anarchic spark — particularly, stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie — but the latest from director Jonathan Levine (“50/50,” “Warm Bodies”) proves to be neither poignant nor hilarious enough. The drugs the main characters ingest don’t seem to do much good for them, but they might help enhance underwhelmed viewers’ experience.
John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter
As it careens from Christmas present to future to past under the deadpan guidance of Shannon’s Mr. Green, the movie gets distracted enough by its assorted comic baubles that it fails to become a “Scrooged”-level incarnation of Christmas miracles. But it offers more than enough laughs to justify taking time out from TV marathons of “A Christmas Story,” and maybe enough, at least for younger audiences, to become a pinch-hitter each year when established classics like “Elf” grow too familiar.
Kimberley Truong, Mashable
“The Night Before” doesn’t shy from clichés. Quite the opposite: it embraces them, co-opting classic Christmas motifs and turning them into something completely its own. From its title, ripped from the festive fable “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” to its references to “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Carol,” the movie asks you to cement it as another holiday classic that you marathon after a long day of family parties. And it may well succeed.
Dan Callahan, The Wrap
“The Night Before” toggles back and forth between attempts at comedy that are fair-to-middling and a far more promising dramatic reality, like a scene where the three guys play video games in Chris’s old room and quietly talk about what it was like to be friends at school. It’s as if the makers of “The Night Before” have it in them to make a touching and funny movie but instead throw that chance away by not taking what they’re doing seriously enough. (And yes, the making of a comedy is a serious and exacting business if you want it to be good.)
Russ Fischer, The Playlist
“Scrooged” seems to be the major template, as director Jonathan Levine (“50/50,” “Warm Bodies”) dips into big physical comedy as Seth Rogen is dragged through Manhattan streets by horses, and the weirdness of a smoke-wreathed version of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future rolled into one. Michael Shannon is a morose delight in that role, acting as both one of the film’s strangest comic elements and its primary grounding force.