Buddy Games: Review
Male debauchery is a common fixture of raunchy comedies, often serving as the driving force behind success stories like the Jackass and The Hangover franchises. While throwing outrageous gags at the screen may appear effortless when they work, it’s the comedic misfires that remind us how hard it is to construct an assured buddy comedy. That’s where Josh Duhamel’s writing/directorial debut Buddy Games comes in, serving as a well-intended, yet ultimately mean-spirited exercise in crass pratfalls.
The Buddy Games follows a group of friends (Duhamel, Dax Shepard, Nick Swardson, James Roday Rodriguez, Kevin Dillon, and Dan Bakkedahl) who reunite yearly to play in the Buddy Games. This assortment of oddball challenges puts their skills and friendship to the test, especially when a $150,000 cash prize is up for grabs with this year’s games.
Delving into male friendships under the guise of crass barbs and hard-hitting pranks is a common trope, yet rarely has this approach rendered such an inauthentic experience. I appreciate the earnest beginnings of Duhamel’s film (it’s loosely based upon a ritual he and his friends participate in), but in an effort to play to the audience’s sensibility, he drains the material of its innate appeal. This celebratory gathering of male comradery morphs into an endless array of mindless gags, negating any authentic connection between our stereotypical leads. The characters only connect when they’re hitting each other in the nuts or delivering ham-fisted speeches, as Duhamel never marries his pratfalls with the sincerity they so desperately seek.
Comedically, Buddy Games is an instance where the actors probably had more fun making the film than audiences will have watching it. For a film that tirelessly tries to shock its audience, Duhamel and company mostly rely upon tired pratfalls. If you want to see people getting teabaged and drinking semen, I guess this is for you. Otherwise, I think most will agree the comedic sensibility here is more grotesque than it is creative. Some of the actors register some light-hearted fun (Nick Swardson has a blast degrading himself with each ridiculous gag), but most of the cast is relegated to one-joke roles that rarely breathe onscreen.
Under the endless array of bits, Buddy Games registers with an oft-putting mean-streak that the material can never quite shakes. I understand that the characters’ abhorrent behavior is supposed to reflect their affectionate feelings towards each other, but Duhamel pushes their pranks to a strenuous degree. Whether the characters are relentlessly mocking their peer’s life-changing injury or worthwhile aspirations, these “boys” read with a macho-man streak that is rarely endearing. I love the hangout comedies that Buddy Games aspires to emulate, but the film rarely taps into that finite frequency.
While watching Buddy Games, I thought of the tweaks that could’ve imbued the material with more heart and authenticity. In other words, I was dreaming of a film that Buddy Games rarely is, with the promising concept only being utilized as a canvas for crass, over-the-top gags. I am curious to see what Duhamel does next as a director, as he may find that his comfort zone rests outside of the comedic sphere.