Movie review: ‘The Night Before’ starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie, from left, in “The Night Before”
Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie, from left, in “The Night Before” Columbia Pictures

First the good news: Seth Rogen is growing up. Then the bad news: Seth Rogen is growing up.

With Neighbors and now the Christmas-themed The Night Before, the comic actor’s juvenile, goofball persona has morphed into a family man wrestling with issues of commitment and parenthood, while still wanting to hang on to his youth.

It’s a natural evolution from Superbad and Pineapple Express but comes with a cost. The Night Before is a mixed Santa’s bag of gags with only a few truly laugh-out-loud moments. But the project has enough of a good-natured, yuletide spirit about it that it’s hard not to be charmed.

Isaac (Rogen), Chris (Anthony Mackie) and Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are three lifelong New York friends who have a holiday tradition of donning their gaudy Christmas sweaters and going out to party on Christmas Eve, even though Isaac is Jewish.

It started as brotherly therapy for Ethan, who lost his parents in a car accident many Christmas seasons ago. Now, it’s ritual.

This year, it’s extra special because it’s the last time they will be able to do it. Isaac’s wife, Betsy (Jillian Bell), is pregnant and Chris’ career as a football player is starting to take off. So they want to go out with a bang and, with the hard-to-get tickets to a renowned but underground Christmas party purloined by Ethan, they put their plan in motion.

As could be predicted, nothing goes right, in large part because Betsy gave Isaac his present — a box of drugs — early. She figures if this is going to be his last hurrah before fully settling down, she’d allow him this one last extravagance.

The three leads have good chemistry together and their easy camaraderie helps carry the movie over the laugh-free spots. But, as directed by Jonathan Levine (Warm Bodies and the far superior Rogen/Gordon-Levitt film, 50/50), The Night Before only occassionally lives up to its comic promise. By the end, it tries to skate by on its long list of cameos, which range from Mindy Kaling to Miley Cyrus. The best, by far, is from Michael Shannon as a wise dope dealer.

As far as crass, crude holiday movies go, The Night Before can’t hold a Christmas candle to A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. But the Rogen of today probably is fine with that.

The Night Before

Director: Jonathan Levine

Cast: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie

Rated: R (drug use and strong language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity)

Running time: 101 min.