Ricky Stanicky review – Zac Efron can’t save deeply unfunny bro comedy | Zac Efron

Imagine your husband, or your friend’s husband, or even your friend, has a pal you’ve never met named Ricky Stanicky. This invisible Stanicky character never visits, barely calls and seems to have about one crisis a year – testicular cancer, or a surprise return from charity work in Kenya, or rehab. This would probably be dubious at best, and baseline annoying. Then suppose this Stanicky calls with a medical crisis in the middle of a baby shower, taking two of the hosts away and causing one to miss the birth of his child. That would definitely be annoying.

Such is the baseline feeling of watching Ricky Stanicky, a new Amazon buddy comedy directed by genre veteran Peter Farrelly, which doesn’t have enough heart to overpower its puerile humor or its characters’ generally objectionable schemes. For Ricky Stanicky, the person, is a made-up character on which three childhood friends, Dean (Zac Efron), JT (Andrew Santino) and Wes (Jermaine Fowler), have blamed two decades’ worth of misbehavior, starting with accidentally burning someone’s house down in a Halloween prank gone awry.

In their adult years, Ricky Stanicky is an agreed-upon excuse – with a literal book of backstories and a fake Instagram account to boot – to get away from their pesky partners, turn off their phones and get blasted during times of responsibility. Times such as the aforementioned baby shower for JT’s wife Susan (Anja Savcic), which the guys ditch for, of all things, a Marc Rebillet concert in Atlantic City, leaving Susan, Dean’s wife Erin (Lex Scott Davis) and Wes’s boyfriend Keith (Daniel Monks) to handle things.

Comedy protagonists don’t have to be sympathetic, of course – some of the best, from Wedding Crashers to the Always Sunny gang, have been scoundrels. But they do need to be funny, and unfortunately, these three guys are neither. The joke that they’re immature wears thin fast; the banter feels as stale as flat beer, which is not helped by some very obvious Dos Equis product placement. At the bar, they meet a weirdo named Rod (John Cena), a failed actor turned “South Jersey’s premiere X-rated rock and roll impersonator” who they dismiss as “Weird Al Wankovic”. But when the gang accidentally misses the birth of JT’s son, resulting in one furious mother-in-law (Heather Mitchell), two skeptical wives (women are so pesky!) and one annoyed boyfriend (gay men can be annoying, too!), they know just the unrecognizable actor to call in for the bris …

Cena has long demonstrated his impressive gameness to play the joke, and his commitment to the bit of an overly pathetic Rod, an alcoholic failure who performs masturbation-themed karaoke, transforming into the worldly, suave do-gooder Ricky Stanicky is admirable. If only the material deserved it; part of the gag involves staging several Cena-in-musician drag performances to demonstrate Rod’s piteousness, including the lyrics “splooge out my penis! Splooge on my tummy!” to the tune of Alice Cooper’s School’s Out. (Ricky Stanicky boasts a team of writers including Farrelly, Jeffrey Bushell, Brian Jarvis, James Lee Freeman, Pete Jones and Mike Cerrone, with a story by David Occhino and Jason Decker; I have to imagine these bits killed in the room.)

Cena as Rod/Ricky is the only endearing character in the bunch, so it’s a bit entertaining when he kills it as Stanicky, endearing himself to Dean and JT’s boss (William H Macy), scoring a job at their finance company and a fluffy news story by Erin, an extremely beleaguered journalist. Dean and JT scramble to sabotage their hanger-on to greatly diminished comic returns. At least Efron, who has long delivered charm in films beneath him (his admirable awards play in last year’s The Iron Claw notwithstanding) can’t help but make Dean a little sympathetic, even with an eye-roll inducing late-stage excuse for his lying. Santino, primarily a comic, fares much worse – JT leaves a sour taste throughout. Fowler’s Wes acts as the film’s chaotic neutral: he’s a stoner for laughs, suggests maybe they tell the truth and casually defuses boilerplate homophobia from acquaintances.

There are a few laughs but, at nearly two hours, Ricky Stanicky far outstays its welcome. Farrelly’s direction isn’t remarkable enough to rise above the unlikability of its heroes nor the persistent dick/masturbation jokes, though he did succeed in making Melbourne, Australia, pass for an indistinct version of Providence, Rhode Island, (save for a few extras’ Aussie accents) and in hiring several actors with disabilities. And in making me wish for more for Efron, Cena and everyone else involved. This gang turns out just fine, of course, but it’s an uneasy hang.

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