Buddy Games, MA, 93 minutes, 1 star
It's been a pretty serious year and cinema has been hanging on by a thread, and so in some ways it is refreshing to see a film like Josh Duhamel's feature film debut as director, Buddy Games, get a big screen release.
Feeling very much like the kind of film Adam Sandler produces or the kind David Spade stars in, this is an occasionally funny dumb film made for blokes. It is full of bloke things, like guys whacking each other in the testicles, or blokes making each other drink cocktails secretly filled with bodily fluids. Bloke stuff.
If that sounds disturbingly gendered in this woke era, I'm not apologising. I actually don't think women will be dumb enough to want to see it, and wouldn't enjoy it if they did.
It lacks the sensible moral core of even the stupidest Sandler or Spade film, and it features a scene of animal cruelty that is played for laughs but, and despite the scene not involving a real actual animal, is foolishly misjudged, mean and unfunny.
That said, I did enjoy a few good laughs in Buddy Games, and more than a few Jackass-style cringes.
As the film opens we meet six friends in their early 30s, all hard-working guys who blow off steam each year by competing against each other in a competition they developed themselves - part Tough Mudder, part Ninja Warrior and with plenty of puerile dares.
Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl), Doc (Kevin Dillon), Durfy (Dax Shepard), Bender (Nick Swardson), Zane (James Roday) and Bobfather (Duhamel) have been friends since childhood and while their relationships and careers might be in different places, their friendship and their dedication to their annual bromance smackdown games is consistent. Materially successful and with a beautiful wife (Lucie Guest), Shelly is being particularly obnoxious when one of his fellow competitors shoots him in the scrotum with a paintball.
We cut to five years later, and Shelly is a wreck of a man. Divorced, mentally unwell and living with his mother following years of depression, the result of the above accident. Shelley's mother approaches Bobfather about re-forming the since-abandoned Buddy Games to help bring her son out of his shell and re-establish bonds with his old friends.
The old mates come together once again, but after five years many things have changed. Doc is listless, Durfy has listened to too many compliments about his looks and moved to California where his Hollywood dreams are eluding him, Zane has a secret while Bender has blown through an inheritance and is now living in his van. It seems they all need to rekindle the friendships and attempt to claw back some of the spirit of their younger selves.
The only genuinely successful one of the crew is Bobfather, and with his business having taken off in a very lucrative way, he stumps up a large payday for the winner.
Many of the competitive rounds imagined for these games and this film are fun, the kinds of big-kid games you might love to play with your friends in. Quad bikes and huge balls you climb inside and roll through obstacle courses. Some are designed to be Dumb and Dumber styled hi-jinks, including a dare at a bar after each man has down a bottle of laxative to convince a woman to dance with them before the laxative takes effect.
The two strongest character arcs in Duhamel's script belong to Bender and Shelly, the shooter and the shot, who have a lot of friendship to repair and a lot of healing to do. Except that neither is a particularly nice person to begin with, and nor are they afterwards. Playing them, Swardson and Bakkedahl give off Buffalo Bill vibes. From The Silence of the Lambs.
Duhamel's script, like his film, is almost good enough, just not quite. There are plenty of moments to enjoy, some characters you warm to and others that aren't appropriately fleshed out or are one-note. Dillon's character might as well have not even existed.
The film is produced by WWE Studios - the wrestling entertainment company that began producing big-screen films for its wrestling stars like John Cena. Their films are usually modestly budgeted and modestly enjoyable, but I'm afraid I can't get past the scene of animal cruelty played for laughs.