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The Bro-lympiad – ‘Buddy Games’

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We all want different things from movies at different times. Sometimes, we want works of cinematic sophistication, beautifully shot and exquisitely performed. At these times, we want to see masterpieces and magnum opuses.

Other times, however, we want something different. We want lighthearted idiocy and dick jokes. We want dudes and bros being dudes and bros. We want coarse language and coarser behavior, movies that appeal to the teenage boy in us.

I’ll give you one guess as to which category applies to the new movie “Buddy Games.”

The film – the directorial debut of actor Josh Duhamel, who is also co-wrote the script and stars – is a goofy and implausible ode to arrested development, an unapologetically raunchy look at male friendship and the ties that bind men to one another, as well as the devotion of a certain masculine mindset to maintaining a connection to the glory days.

While the film does have some things going for it – especially a strong cast that is happily along for the increasingly outlandish ride – those things can’t overcome the myriad obstacles presented by what it lacks.

For years, a group of friends have been assembling annually for an event they call the Buddy Games. This idiot Olympiad features a collection of ridiculous physical challenges that take place over the course of a few days. Bob (Josh Duhamel, “Think Like a Dog”) – known to the crew as The Bobfather – is the organizer and host of the games; they take place at his camp in the woods.

The rest of the bunch includes snarky Zane (James Roday, TV’s “A Million Little Pieces”), chiropractor Doc (Kevin Dillon, “Dirt”), good-natured doofus Durfy (Dax Shepard, TV’s “Bless This Mess”), irritating jerk Bender (Nick Swardson, “The Wrong Missy”) and arrogant Games winner Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl, TV’s “Space Force”) – all of whom have been playing in these games for ages.

But when a spite-driven mishap leads to (admittedly hilarious) tragedy, the Buddy Games come to an end. The men are divided by the event – one becomes a pariah, another simply disappears – but all are left to consider the permanent alteration of their friendship dynamic.

Five years pass. While some have seen their paths change – Bob is now incredibly wealthy with a long-term girlfriend Tiff (Olivia Munn, “Love Wedding Repeat”); Durfy followed his dream to Hollywood, where he’s a struggling extra – they still haven’t found their way to reuniting. That is until Shelly emerges from his long disappearance; at the behest of Shelly’s mom, Bob decides to revive the Buddy Games to help Shelly work through his issues.

What follows is a wild and weird reunion – one whose stakes are raised considerably. See, for reasons that I won’t spoil here, there’s now a significant sum of money involved. The winner of this iteration of the Buddy Games will walk home with a cool $150,000. As you might imagine, the prospect of $150K turns the already-heated competition into something even fiercer. Even so, the reunion of the old friends revives old happiness and dredges up old resentments, leaving the men to figure out if they can recapture their old friendships – or if they even truly want to.

As someone who generally loves these kind of contrived brodown comedies, it’s tough for me to be fully objective here. The reality is that I’m always going to dig this kind of movie more than the average viewer – that continues to be the case with “Buddy Games.” However, that does not mean I’m going to sit here and tell you that it is a good movie.

It is not.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a decent enough hang in its way. The ludicrous lunacy of the Games themselves makes for a ton of fun. There’s a cheerful crudity throughout that is worth a few chuckles – the movie is unafraid to get gross when the moment calls for it (and often when it doesn’t). For the most part, it’s inoffensively offensive, if that makes sense. Sometimes, you just want to see dudes whacking each other in the whatnot.

The problem – and it’s a big one – is the fact that it is incredibly difficult to find anyone for whom to root in this entire film. Every one of our main players is either undeveloped (Zane, Doc, Durgy) or unlikeable (Bob, Shelly, Bender); when your story revolves around a competition and the audience isn’t really given someone to root for, well … that’s an issue. It’s a movie about a game, but it’s tough for us to care enough about any of the competitors to want them to win.

The assembled ensemble is one whose talent far outstrips the material. It’s obviously a passion project for Duhamel, but his energetic performance onscreen isn’t nearly enough to make up for his lackluster script and inexperience behind the camera. He’s fine, but one never quite gets the charismatic shine you’d expect from a dude who has inspired such fanatical devotion from his buddies. Of the rest, Bakkedahl is probably the best of the bunch, though he’s basically doing a slight variant on his usual abrasive d-bag persona. Swardson’s supposed to be unlikeable, but the actor’s own tendency toward unlikability results in him going too far; his character is actively unpleasant, and rarely in a fun way. Dillon seems vaguely lost, while Shepard and Roday are both largely wasted; Shepard gets a couple of OK bits – he makes out the better of the two – but neither gets a whole lot to do. And heaven help you if you’re a woman – Munn and the rest are essentially non-entities.

Again, I’m the target audience for “Buddy Games.” And I’ll admit that I found some stuff to enjoy here. However, I also recognize that my enjoyment may not line up with that of most audiences. If you share my proclivity for juvenile humor executed by idiot man-children, you’ll probably find something to like here. If you don’t, feel free to take a pass; for you, when it comes to “Buddy Games,” the only way to win is not to play.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 23 November 2020 11:45

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