Sunday, June 7, 2009

If you liked/loved The Hangover, try The Night Before...

The headline is a little disingenuous, since I haven't actually seen The Hangover yet (someone decided not to nap yesterday). But since the box office estimates are shaky enough to wait for the finals tomorrow, I'll instead take a moment to highlight a little-known gem that shares the same basic concept as The Hangover. It's a 1988 Keanu Reeves vehicle that just came out on DVD via Lionsgate a couple months ago. It's a mediocre full-frame transfer (the original aspect ratio was 1.78:1), with only a trivia track as an extra, but you should still consider checking out The Night Before. It's a genuinely funny variation on the 'I don't remember what I did last night and I'm not sure I want to know' sub-genre.

"I said I'd have her home by midnight, but instead... ". Released in April of 1988, this surprisingly witty gem starts out with Winston C0nnelly (Keanu Reeves), dressed in a tuxedo, waking up in an alley way in the middle of the night with no idea how he got there. Last he remembers, he was going to prom with Tara Mitchell, (Lori Loughlin), even if it was only because the most popular girl in school lost a bet to her best friend. But now she's missing, as is his father's car. And, for some reason, he has over a thousand dollars in his pocket. And someone named Tito apparently wants to murder him.

As the film unfolds, Winston finds various clues that trigger bits of memory, and he eventually is aided by a street-smart lady of the evening (the always welcome Theresa Saldana). To say much more would spoil the fun, but this would-be 80s teen comedy is a lot closer to Martin Scorsese's After Hours than you'd think. Everyone is having fun here, and Loughlin's spoiled princess routine works to keep the levity as her situation becomes more and more dire (she's not frightened so much as furious at having to play the damsel in distress). And Reeves (as usual) refuses to mug, understanding that the material is absurd enough on its own. I've often defended Keanu Reeves as an actor, mainly because his underacting and his refusal to be bigger than the character is often mistaken for stiffness (Harrison Ford and Kevin Costner suffer the same criticism).

It's not the best comedy of the 1980s, and the third act doesn't measure up to the first two, but as something I only saw recently, purely for work-related reasons, I was shocked at how entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny it was. It's truly a diamond in the rough, and I can only hope I enjoy The Hangover as much as I enjoyed The Night Before.

Scott Mendelson


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