It’s hard to recall any movie that rings as hollow and false as “This is the Night.” But then, my memory isn’t what it once was.
That’s not to say that this growing up Italian on Staten Island, “Coming of Age as ‘Rocky III’ comes out” tale couldn’t be based on some sort of reality. I attended an opening night showing of “Goodfellas” in Manhattan, so there’s plenty of evidence the paisanos turn out to see some version of themselves on the screen. I’ve seen how worked up they get. Fuggedaboutit.
But this eye-roller of a “comedy” from the fellow who gave us “The Purge” franchise just reeks of contrivance and corniness. If there’s truth to it, writer-director James DeMonaco is too clumsy to let that truth feel true.
It’s closing in on Memorial Day on “The Island” in 1982. But all Anthony Dedea (Lucius Hoyos) and anybody he knows or is related to cares about is that’s right before opening night of “Rocky III,” the “end of the trilogy,” “the last ‘Rocky’ movie evuh!” As if.
His older brother Christian (Jonah Hauer-King) is busting what Italian guys bust on their brothers about it, “Everybody’s goin’ wantin’ to see who DIES.” But Anthony is a true believer.
He and his 16 year-old pals (River Alexander, Chase Vacnin) have a mantra about the revered franchise and the threat of what a future generation would call “spoilers.”
“Respect the film!”
“This is the Night” isn’t just about getting matinee tickets to their local two screen cineplex. It’s about all sorts of things that happen afterward — to Anthony, who crushes on Sophia (Madelyn Cline) but is incompetently bullied by her boyfriend, to Anthony’s Dad (Frank Grillo), desperate to keep the family catering business/rental hall open and needing money from Sophia’s Made Man Dad (Bobby Cannavale). And it’s about Christian’s not-remotely-secret “secret” and what their Mom (Naomi Watts) does about it.
The three amigos with be threatened and chased, tempted by tube-topped tarts in a Trans Am and face a Rocky-like reckoning, as will most everybody else.
All the while, one and all — the Italian Americans, anyway — will bellow and backslap, threaten and talk, talk, talk with their hands as they do.
“I KNOW you’re excited, but shaddup when you talk, awright?”
The grown up performers are OK, the kids pretty much all soon-to-be-ex-child-actor pretty boys, and more uninteresting than unskilled, forced to play mere sketches of characters.
The bully wouldn’t scare a six year-old girl.
The situations are stock — “our first time in a bar,” “tell her how I really feel” — and worse.
The picture wears its contrivances like gold stars affixed to a first-time screenwriter’s “memoir” movie attempt in film school. DeMonaco has experience and skill, if not in this genre. What the hell happened?
Watching “This is the Night” is like sitting through replays of a moment The Big Game goes all wrong. We see the mistakes and missteps in real “reel” time, and are helpless to shout suggestions.
Rating: R for language, some drug use and teen drinking
Cast: Lucius Hoyos, Chase Vacnin, Madelyn Cline, River Alexander, Frank Grillo, Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts
Credits: Scripted and directed by James DeMonaco. A Universal release on Netflix.
Running time: 1:47