Comedy Movie

Ricky Stanicky

Before Judd Apatow cornered the comedy market on movies about permanently adolescent men, there was Peter Farrelly, whose movies with his brother Bobby could range from sweetly funny—if at times inappropriate—like “Dumb and Dumber” or “There’s Something About Mary” to however one would describe the notorious trainwreck that was his solo outing in “Movie 43.” Since then, Farrelly branched out to television, the Oscar-winning “Green Book,” and the dramatic Vietnam War era misadventure “The Greatest Beer Run Ever.” Now, he’s returned to the familiar stale dude comedies of yore with “Ricky Stanicky.”

“Ricky Stanicky” feels like a throwback, and not in a nostalgic fun way either. It’s more like a rehash of tired bits and jokes with nothing particularly innovative or clever to say. Farrelly shares writing credit with five other writers and two others who share a story by credit, so it’s tough to point fingers at exactly what went wrong without concluding “it’s all wrong.”

Ricky Stanicky is technically not the name of a character when the movie begins. He’s an imaginary scapegoat created out of necessity to get three young boys out of trouble after a “poop bag on fire” prank goes horribly awry. Over the years (and as illustrated in a cartoon credit sequence), the trio lean on Ricky to blame for all kinds of hijinks and bad decisions. Even as adults, Dean (Zac Efron), JT (Andrew Santino), and Wes (Jermaine Fowler) still cite Ricky as a reason to leave their families – but it’s a cover to travel somewhere fun, go to sports games, or concerts. When the trio finally takes one too many covert trips, their loved ones demand to meet the infamous reformed reprobate Ricky Stanicky. To keep up appearances, they hire a down-and-out alcoholic actor from Atlantic City named Rod (John Cena) to play Ricky at an upcoming family event, and of course, hilarity ensues. Or at least, it shows up in brief intervals between jokes about women’s appearances and racist comments.

So much of “Ricky Stanicky” is juvenile and joyless, playing on drawn out jokes, bottom shelf masturbation punchlines, and varying degrees of cringe comedy. William H. Macy appears as Dean and JT’s boss mostly to unwittingly make crude gestures insinuating blow jobs during corporate meetings. Jeff Ross makes an appearance as a goofy rabbi who accidentally takes ketamine and is unable to complete the bris he’s there to conduct. The director of “Green Book” made the only Black character in the cast, Wes, an unemployed stoner while Dean and JT hold white collar jobs. This might be funny for someone, but I’m not among them.

To their credit, Efron and Cena make the best out of the shit sandwich they’ve been served. As Dean, Efron gets the most runway for some emotional scenes—he’s the man with a plan stuck watching Rod-as-Ricky throw him and his friends, and later his girlfriend, one curveball after another, further inserting himself into their lives. The experience pushes him to grow up a little, and Efron plays the progression with a sense of earnestness seen in some of Farrelly’s better comedies. As for Cena, he goes all in on Rod, playing the character to the extremes, from embodying the signs of alcohol withdrawal and putting on poor impressions of famous rock stars singing cum puns to pulling in facts and stories he learned in the previous 24 hours in casual conversation like he has been Ricky all his life, traveling to far flung countries, working with Bono, and surviving cancer. Despite the lackluster script, Cena uses it to flex his acting chops, outdoing just about everyone else in the movie by keeping a serious look on his face when saying or doing ridiculous things.

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