This Is the Night, 2021.
Written and Directed by James DeMonaco.
Starring Lucius Hoyos, Jonah Hauer-King, Naomi Watts, Frank Grillo, Method Man, Bobby Cannavale, River Alexander, Chase Vacnin, Raquel Castro, Madelyn Cline, Daniel Sauli, Mike Massimino, Lea DiMarchi, Cody Fairless-Lee, Isabella Pisacane, Constantine Rousouli, and Frankie Montero.
A teenager living in Staten Island during the summer of 1982 embarks on a quest that draws in his family members.
This is the Night takes place on May 28th, 1982, a specific date for writer and director James DeMonaco’s narrative (yes, the helmer of a few of the Purge movies decided to dip his toes into the coming-of-age genre) not because it is based on a true story, but rather because it’s the day Rocky III was released. For the neighborhood depicted in Staten Island here, the occasion might as well be up there with Christmas. It’s one thing to frame a narrative around a particular day, but within minutes this straightfaced story loses all sense of immersion considering the degree to which the release of this movie sends everyone into a crazed tizzy. It never once feels as if the characterization and morals of Rocky are altering anyone here; it’s 108 minutes of sucking up to Rocky III, which is fine since it is a great movie, but not at the cost of the serious issues the family drama wants to explore.
Honestly, if you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about what I’m trying to say, I don’t blame you. I had no idea what the hell I was watching, either. Tony (Lucius Hoyos) and his friends are often the victims of bullying. The girl he likes is Sophia (Madelyn Cline), who they also spot in line buying tickets for the movie. There’s a problem, though, as she is currently dating a nasty boyfriend that, judging from her disapproving facial reactions towards some of his actions, she doesn’t want to be with anymore. There is also a line wrapped around the entire theater, although that’s not the weird part. Everyone from street hooligans to the wealthy are purchasing tickets, implying the whole damn area has rabid anticipation. That sounds believable on paper, but here it’s a ridiculous mess with no nuance or anything interesting to say about the movie’s popularity or legacy.
Purchasing tickets for mom and dad (Frank Grillo and Naomi Watts, the latter of which needs to fire her agent immediately based on this and some reactions I hear out of the Toronto International Film Festival regarding another colossal misfire) and his brother Christian (Jonah Hauer-King) for a mid-day showing, everyone sees the movie. There are no audible clips, but there are cheesy reactions from all the various characters alongside the occasional glimpse of an image of Rocky III here and there. Afterward, Tony catches Sophia arguing with her boyfriend some more, remembering that he forgot to wish her a happy birthday. This prompts him to hit up her birthday party later in the evening.
However, arriving at the party without a scratch will prove challenging as Sophia’s boyfriend manipulates the audience into believing Tony called Rocky a “pussy”. What ensues is a cautious race against time while trying to avoid all sorts of traps from avid Rocky fans that now want to beat Tony and his friends up. This includes an extended sequence of conventionally attractive women flirting with them only to lure them around their boyfriends that are very angry a movie character may or may not have been called a pussy.
Up until this point, This is the Night is incredibly stupid but inoffensive. And then we get ill-advised handling of a subplot of Christian dressing up as a woman. His mom is aware and indirectly brings it up because she knows she will accept him. Obviously, Christian is more worried about his temperamental father. Speaking of Frank Grillo, his character is a chef who works for Bobby Cannavale’s character, the father of Sophia. The dads also have some beef going back to high school, also cemented on romance, so the family drama inevitably comes full circle with one of the lamest and most prolonged fight scenes put to screen in recent memory.
It shouldn’t surprise that the drag element is handled with no class and comes across as borderline exploitative. Subtlety or thoughtfulness has never been the strength of James DeMonaco. Ignoring the fact that a Rocky movie sets off so many different plot points and how ridiculous it is watching everyone be excited on opening day as if the experience has changed their lives, This is the Night is a horrendously misguided film that is somehow made all the more painful by the actors are genuinely trying to make the material tolerable. Taking a beating from Rocky himself would better pass off as entertainment than this abomination.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com