Lionsgate // 1988 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // April 14th, 2009
You lost your father's car. Sold your prom date. And a guy called "Tito" wants you dead.
Before he was Ted "Theodore" Logan. Before he was Neo. Before he was Johnnys, both Utah and Mnemonic, Keanu Reeves was Winston Connelly, vice-president of the Astronomy Club.
Winston Connelly (Keanu Reeves, Speed) has a problem. He's just woken up in the middle of the street and doesn't know how he got there. His prom date, the pretty, popular and totally spoiled Tara (Lori Loughlin, Secret Admirer), has gone missing. His tux jacket is filled with money. His car is gone. Everywhere he goes, everyone keeps whispering the name Tito in a way that doesn't sound good for Winston.
What happened last night?
Thom Eberhardt's 1988 film The Night Before is the After Hours of teen comedies. It is silly and dumb (which After Hours was not), but it is also dark and strange and, at times, surreal (qualities After Hours had in spades). For these reasons, I'm willing to overlook its flaws, which are many. As someone who has made watching teen movies into a lifelong study, I'm happy to say I haven't seen another one like it.
Like in his only other foray into teen movies, the under-appreciated and awesome Night of the Comet, writer-director Eberhardt is more interested in subverting the genre with The Night Before than in slavishly following standard formulas. That's why the often-fetishized prom is at the center of the film but never seen (or attended, for that matter). It's why a movie that borrows its initial ideas heavily from Pretty in Pink (where it's all about the prom), Some Kind of Wonderful (geek gets popular girl) and Can't Buy Me Love (girl dates geek after bet) turns into an all-night odyssey around the seamiest parts of town, where the prom queen is sold into prostitution and the geek has to save the day.
It's only on this level, really, that The Night Before succeeds. It's a comedy that isn't very funny. It asks us to buy the fact that these two kids fall in love over the course of one disastrous night, but only gives us one scene where they even tolerate each other. It doesn't help that it takes Lori Loughlin -- who is capable of being sweet and adorable (see Secret Admirer) -- and makes her every moment insufferable. The whole movie is kind of sleazy, even though it's in a very PG-13 way. Despite all of this, I still like The Night Before for its willingness to be odd and sleazy. Those are its best qualities.
I know it's cool to bash Keanu Reeves. I know he's not always the "best" or "most talented" at his chosen profession of "acting." And while I won't use this space to do my full defense-of-Keanu diatribe (because he is pretty awesome in certain roles), I will say that '80s Keanu is way more interesting than movie-star Keanu. Think of his turns in River's Edge and Permanent Record -- or even Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure -- where he's kind of effortlessly authentic; that's the Keanu that shows up for The Night Before. There were a number of other teen-movie stars that Eberhardt could've cast to play the sweet, clueless Winston, but they would have all been wrong for the part. The nerd-du-jour, Anthony Michael Hall, had a tendency to be too self-consciously cool in anything post-Breakfast Club. Andrew McCarthy and Jon Cryer were too soft. No one would have believed that Charlie Sheen selling his date into prostitution was an "accident." Reeves, on the other hand, is inspired casting to play a geek: his total lack of self-awareness and instinctive, wrong-headed line readings are perfect for someone as sweet and odd as Winston. He's more of a real-world geek than many that appeared on screen in the '80s, and his delivery of the line "It's a little owl" will always make me laugh.
The Night Before comes to DVD at last courtesy of Lionsgate as part of the "Lost Collection" line ("The best movies you totally forgot about."). Like the majority of the "Lost" films, the movie is presented in an OK-at-best full frame transfer that looks like a well-preserved VHS copy. I'm beating a dead horse when I say that if you're going to finally release a film specifically for the small group of fans it still has, why alienate them by treating the DVD like a toss-off? This mentality of "let's be happy to have it at all" is pretty cynical, even for a guy who hates everything like myself.
The 5.1 audio track is fine if uninspired, though the songs by George Clinton do pop a bit (Oh, yeah, did I mention that the movie has an all-funk soundtrack?). Only a single extra is included: a trivia track that pops up sporadically to tell you things marginally related to the film -- usually little factoids about the cast. If you never watched the film with the trivia track on, you be no worse off for it.
I suspect I'm alone in my affection, but I was genuinely happy to hear that The Night Before would be released on DVD, if only because I wouldn't ever have to dig out the VHS copy I taped off Encore several years ago. The resulting disc is a disappointment. I won't suggest that the film deserves better, but its fans certainly do.
I'm willing to let The Night Before off the hook, but Lionsgate should be sold to a pimp.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Trivia Track