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You’ve seen “The Night Before” before. A few aging man-children get together, run wild with drugs, booze, and sex, and somehow learn some deep lessons about themselves in the process. “The Night Before” has enough genuinely funny bits to elevate it above just another turn of the bromantic comedy crank, but its only truly distinguishing factor is that it’s ostensibly a Christmas movie.

The film finds buddies Isaac (Seth Rogen), Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) taking a final run at their long-standing tradition of Christmas Eve debauchery. Isaac has a baby on the way. Chris is a big-shot athlete. Ethan has never really gotten his act together. But the three thirtysomethings agree it’s time to send their arrested development out in style by attending a mysterious Christmas mega-bash called the Nutcracker Ball.

Cue running wild, deep lessons, et cetera. The three leads gel well enough, although Rogen is the only one who leaves a lasting impression, creatively portraying Isaac’s near-constant high as he cycles through using just about every drug known to man.

It’s the supporting players who really shine here. As Ethan’s ex, Lizzy Caplan conjures a smoldering chemistry with Gordon-Levitt. And the great Michael Shannon steals every scene he’s in as the trio’s former teacher/pot dealer.

The movie goes on and off the rails, mostly off for a lot of late third-act business, including one celebrity cameo of increasingly cringe-inducing length. But the problem isn’t consistency so much as how pat it all feels. When we were first introduced to Rogen in “Knocked Up,” there was some novelty to a story about a dopey slacker who learns some family values. But “The Night Before” is just dutifully following a template. Except it’s at Christmas this time.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer

‘The Night Before’

GRADE: C+

Rated R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity

Running time: 101 minutes

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