We should all be so lucky as to work with our friends. It makes the hard days easier and the light days more fun. Doesn’t matter what the gig is, doing it with people that you trust just improves the overall experience. In cinema, we see repetitious partnerships all the time. Where there’s Kevin Smith, there’s Jason Mewes, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Brian O’Halloran, and others. Where there’s James Gunn, there’s Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion, and an increasing number of others. Where there’s Martin Scorsese, there’s Joe Pesci, Vincent Argo, Leonardo DiCaprio, and more. We could do an entire article on this with Adam Sandler’s career. With Buddy Games 2: Spring Awakening, the cast appears to be entering this same category of storytelling, wherein a filmmaker, in this cast returning director/cast member Josh Duhamel, is rejoined by the actors of the previous film as they engage in a litany of ridiculousness and self-debasement for the audience’s entertainment.
Inspired by the recent and unexpected passing of their friend Durfy (Dax Shepard), friends Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl), Doc (Kevin Dillon), Bob (Josh Duhamel), Zane (James Roday Rodriguez), and Bender (Nick Swardson) decide to head back to where the Buddy Games began only to discover that what they thought was theirs had been stolen by an old nemesis and made part of a Spring Break tradition in their absence. In trying to take it back, the friends find themselves separated, going through trials that will either strengthen their bond or break it.
For the uninitiated, don’t despair; you don’t require prior knowledge of the first Buddy Games in order to follow the story. Via the opening scene, the central characters, their antagonists, and the stakes are established, enabling the adventure to kick off almost immediately. This is a boon as it enables the narrative to dispense with the maudlin quickly, conveying that there is little sacred, so the audience is best to either keep their pearls firmly clutched or just take them off entirely. If you’re unsure what I mean, the fact that the vibe of the film fits within the road trip stoner genre with the likes of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) minus the weed but plus everything else, should prepare you for projectile excretions, abundant sexual innuendos, horny people, and countless jokes on gender, race, age, and more, each treated with an equal sense of fair game. Just like White Castle, this means that the script from first-time feature writers Gabe McKinley and Rachael Thoele treat the characters like the butt of the joke as often as the ones making them. It’s a hard balance to strike and, for the most part, thanks to the likeability of the actors, the audience is right there with them, rooting for them, no matter what end of the joke they’re on. This is paramount to enjoying the film as this crew does a few rather unseemly things, but being aware that these characters aren’t meant to be wholly pure or evil but human, allows the audience to just unclench and enjoy the silliness.
The weird thing about the film is that its structure gets a little too loose to get invested. In films where characters have a competition to take part in, there’s usually time spent making sure that the audience understands the games, that there’s a clear flow to the order of things, and, because of that, the audience can get invested in the characters’ success or failure. The way that things are presented via editing, there’s no sense of what the games are or how they operate (very few require no explanation); though the use of a pop-up scorecard does allow the audience to keep track of which team is in what position. But then it’s over and there’s plenty more film to go. It’s here that the film spins off into a different trajectory, away from the cast as a group, splitting them into pairings. Nothing occurs that isn’t just a setup for a joke, making one feel as though this isn’t an adventure that the characters will learn from so much but a series of loosely connected sketches providing these characters new stories to tell when it’s over. To a degree, that’s perfectly fine as not all stories are required to have a message or theme, but this film wants to have one regarding family and friendship and rushes to get there is the literal final moments of the film. Is it on-brand with the rest of Spring Awakening? Sure, but it would be nice to have a little more.
Now I can’t speak for certain whether or not the central cast of Duhamel, Bakkedahl, Dillon, Swardson, and Roday Rodriguez are buddies who hang out when not filming, but they have such great chemistry together, each willingly taking turns being the straight man so that someone else can get a little shine, that’s it’s difficult to believe that they don’t. For his part, Duhamel makes sure that each actor looks their best even when embarrassing the characters. The jokes don’t so much demean them as offer opportunities to put them in their place or create a situation where they can shine. Via Duhamel’s steadied direction, there’s visible balance and intention to each frame. Considering the often low-brow material presented, the assuredness is surprising and helps maintain the heart that courses through Spring Awakening.
Look, Spring Awakening is exactly the film you think it’s going to be: silly, crude, and purely for entertainment purposes and, on that mark, it delivers. Though not all the jokes land as they’ve been done a million times before, there’s enough that feels fresh, that’ll catch you off guard, you won’t be able to help leaning in. (Right as things ramp up to a mood shift in the opening, there’s an admittedly brilliant use of an urn to disarm an assailant that had me wishing someone else was with me to see it.) Spring Awakening may not reinvent the wheel, but the charm comes from the cast, who, as a collective, have it in spades.
In select theaters May 19th, 2023.
Available on VOD June 2nd, 2023.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.
Categories: In Theaters, Reviews, streaming
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