"I was supposed to have her home by midnight, and instead, I sold her to a pimp."
That's a great line. And "The Night Before" offers up a great premise to go with it: a teen wakes up in the worst part of town with no memory of how he got there, although the prom tux suggests a very bad night.
But, aside from a few decent moments (like the one featuring the above slice of dialogue), the film never lives up to the promise of that set-up. All we get is a watered-down "Risky Business"-by-way-of-"After Hours" all-nighter comedy where most of the jokes are all about what happens when white kids wind up at black clubs, or when a dumb kid is too stupid to realize what he's doing.
The dumb kid is Keanu Reeves. In "The Night Before," Reeves is trying out something he'd perfect the next year in "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" - the clueless innocent. Ted Logan may have been a dunderhead, but he's a sweetheart dunderhead, and that makes a big difference in making the character work. As suburban geek Winston Connelly in "The Night Before," Reeves attempts the same thing, but with less success. Here, his cluelessness is more obnoxious than endearing.
But the fault's not really with Reeves. The script, from Thom Eberhardt (who also directed) and Gregory Scherick, is too forceful with Winston's stupidity, going to the well too many times with essentially the same joke. Their story is so dependent on episodic misadventures that they forgot to make the characters interesting. The heroes are just as caricatured as the weirdoes they encounter, which misses the point: a movie like this needs a straight man at the center. Instead, we get Winston the dolt, while his prom date, Tara (Lori Laughlin), is a smart-assed harpy who's not afraid to yell at gangbangers.
Had Tara been more likeable, or had Winston been less cartoonish, "The Night Before" might've worked. The structure is inventive enough, with its nonlinear timeline bouncing us between past and present as Winston remembers more and more of the night's events. The opening act asks Winston to follow some clues - a parking lot stub, a wad of cash - which lends the story a puzzle vibe that gets the audience involved, yet such ideas are quickly abandoned, the writers eventually figuring it's just easier to have characters tell Winston what he needs to know.
By the time we reach the finale, the whole thing's devolved into cheap slapstick (feet fall through rotten floors for no reason other than a quick gag) and tiresome bickering, as if everyone just gave up halfway through and figured as long as we end it soon, we'll be fine.
By the way: George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars show up somewhere in the middle as a bar band, and the soundtrack is loaded with funk, including the Mar-Kays and Ike and Tina Turner. It's all a soundtrack shortcut to too-cool, "white boy learns what it is, Jack," "Mannish Boy"-in-"Risky Business" attitude. You know: the city at night is dangerous and dirty and fun. But the movie remains white bread, the jokes remain obvious, the anarchy remains too deliberate and pre-planned quirky. George Clinton is all funk, but the movie is anything but.
Lionsgate has released "The Night Before" under their "Lost Collection" label. The series' slogan - "The Best Movies You Totally Forgot About" - leaves much up for debate from several angles, and the package art is a tad annoying, as is the generic intentionally-tacky menu, but at least fans will appreciate finally getting a long overdue DVD release.
Video & Audio
As with most other "Lost Collection" discs, "The Night Before" is offered up in a 1.33:1 full screen version, and not the original widescreen format. And like those other movies, this, too, seems to be an open matte version, although the image gets a little tight when zoomed in to 1.78:1 on my display. Nothing seems cropped at 1.33:1, however. The image itself is only so-so, a bit grainy and soft. Colors have a nice strength to them, and black levels are decent.
The soundtrack is listed as 5.1 surround, but it sounds stereo to me, with all the action remaining fully up front. Dialogue is clear, and the music - especially Clinton's mid-movie jam - is rich. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided.
Like all "Lost Collection" discs, this one comes with a lousy "Trivia Track" subtitle option, in which lame trivia about the cast and crew is presented as annoying multiple choice/true-false questions that spend far too much time on the screen, with too much lag time in between facts. There's little here you couldn't find for yourself after three minutes on IMDB.
A batch of previews for other Lionsgate releases is also included; these previews also play as the disc loads.
Curious Keanu fans might want to rent this one to see the star in his early days, but between the movie's problems and the weak disc presentation, everyone else is invited to just Skip It.