Release: Tuesday, November 24, 2020 (internet)
Written by: Josh Duhamel; Bob Schwartz; Jude Weng
Directed by: Josh Duhamel
Starring: Josh Duhamel; Dax Shepard; Olivia Munn; Nick Swardson; James Roday Rodriguez; Dan Bakkedahl; Kevin Dillon
Party movies are supposed to be fun, right? Well, Buddy Games proves that stereotype wrong.
It is a rough start for Josh Duhamel, who makes his directorial debut with this odious and generic copy of more successful bro-team comedies, namely 2009’s The Hangover and 2018’s Tag. There’s also a “wonderful” (your adjective may vary) rip-off of a certain Van Wilder gag-inducing gag but I won’t spoil that for you.
In what feels more like a ploy to diversify the IMDb stats than an inspired choice with which to begin a directing career, the Transformers actor does his best Robin Hood, thieving both plot and prank from the aforementioned bro-downs to give to his poor man’s Entourage. This less-than-purifying cocktail of debauchery, misogyny and fabergé male egos concerns a group of 40-something dudes — lifelong pals, so says this movie — who are getting back together after a falling out to do what they used to do best: get shit-house wasted and compete in a grueling weekend-long competition for a cash prize and/or the chance for complete and total humiliation.
Despite having five main characters in the cast the movie really boils down to tension between two of them, Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl — Veep; Life in Pieces) and Bender (Nick Swardson — Grandma’s Boy; Jack & Jill), leaving the rest to be defined either by profession or, uh, sexual orientation. Suffice to say, something went down between those two, something you have no trouble believing even close friends would take a long time to come back from. Several years later Bender, who just endears with humble brags of blowing through his inheritance “and shit,” is considered persona non grata and Shelly is living in an assisted living facility, permanently berobed and eating cereal out of his own belly button. Stand back — this man’s losing it!
At wit’s end, his own mother calls in a favor from the Bobfather (Duhamel), the only individual she knows that can snap him out of this deep a funk. Bob not only has money but he has, apparently, a way of pumping people up. Something else we quickly learn: He’s good at being buddies with his wife Tiffany (Olivia Munn — X-Men: Apocalypse; The Babymakers) but even better at maintaining a marriage to his buddies and all their shenanigans. Granted, there is a degree of subversiveness to the way this ostensibly stable relationship trends but ultimately Tiffany is yet another doormat role for the underratedly funny Munn. Duhamel, meanwhile, doesn’t so much bring personality to the role as he does cliches and handsomeness.
As to the directing, he similarly relies upon tired mechanisms, lazy jokes and stale archetypes to fill in the time that isn’t spent on the titular competition. The collaborative script kicks into a higher gear once it’s putting into action this ridiculously elaborate event inexplicably made possible by the efforts of only five men. In fact much of the story feels like it is just stalling for time until it gets to use the big set piece, stumbling and bumbling around with its half-baked themes of friendship and confidence and trust, with only but a few character foibles truly having any bearing on the story. On top of that, Kevin ‘Drama’ Dillon fans are going to have to be cool with less of him and a heavy dose of Nick Swardson’s niched brand of self-loathing humor to stay attached here.
The set-up is unabashedly, appealingly simple. Not to mention bro-unions are a time-honored tradition that I have a lot of time for. Get everyone back together, paper over some old wounds, learn something about friendship in the process, accidentally drink one another’s semen, yay we all go home. Often simplicity is enough for these things to work wonders. I mean literally The Hangover is a movie that made a puzzle out of tracing one’s steps backwards after a night of heavy drinking. Plots don’t get much more basic than that. Tag, meanwhile, had the benefit of being based on a semi-outrageous true story. But this movie is so damn loud it is obnoxious and frequently insufferable. In compensating for its lack of originality Buddy Games doubles down on testosterone to the point of drowning in it.
I would actually accept almost all of this — the neanderthalic attitude towards women excluded — were the characters on some level likable. But Duhamel appears to assume that torn scrota and bruised egos make for all the sympathy and character-building a d00d movie ever needs.
Moral of the Story: It’s a movie about basically reclaiming past glory and manhood, in this case literally. Kevin Dillon (of Entourage) got me to bite. But it’s Swardson who dominates. If you’re a fan of his, like a super-fan I mean, you might just be the kind of viewer Buddy Games is looking to haze.
Running Time: 90 mins.
Quoted: “I bet this place brings back fond memories!”
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Photo credits: flickeringmyth.com; imdb.com