Vertical Entertainment // 2013 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 18th, 2013
One stripper, six friends, and a pineapple.
Movie genres work in cycles. Somebody has an idea, it's a hit, and then suddenly it's the new bar everyone is hoping to meet or exceed. In the best cases, we get something like American Pie, which ushered in a new era of R-rated teen comedies after a decade of tamer, Can't Hardly Wait-style PG-13 comedies. It's just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from American Pie to Judd Apatow and the entire culture of R-rated comedy that swept the first decade of the twenty-first century. Notice, however, that none of Apatow's movies look like American Pie -- we're talking inspiration, not imitation. In contrast, we have a worst-case scenario like the success of The Hangover. That movie came out of nowhere and did beaucoup business. Now everybody and their brother is trying to catch lightning in a bottle by showing us men behaving badly. When it works, nobody minds, but when it results in bottom-shelf silliness like Stag, it's too much to take.
Ken (Donald Faison, Scrubs) is the prankster among his friends. Every time one of them gets married, Ken's there to pull some horrendously embarrassing prank on them. Now it's Ken's turn: he's getting married and he's afraid of the revenge his friends will seek on his own Stag night.
The Hangover worked by being relatable and outrageous in equal measure. We all have friends or know someone like at least one of the characters in that film. They're types, but types embodied by funny actors. Once things get going, the film continually ups the ante by giving us more and more outrageous situations. Stag tries to go down that path. The film opens with a history of Ken's pranks. Although they're not particularly outrageous, they're mildly amusing -- as amusing as simulating putting a pineapple in someone's rear can be. The film sets us up to expect that kind of bad behavior for the whole time, watching Ken dodge pranks or become their victim.
Stag, however, has other ideas. Instead of a prank-filled paean to the stag-night tradition, the last two acts of the film are much more about examining how difficult life can get in one's thirties. This isn't a new observation. It's there in pretty much all of Apatow's work, and even the venerable Hangover has to acknowledge getting older when characters must deal with kids or spouses. The problem with Stag is that it does this badly. To make this peripheral concern of the genre central, a film either needs to be really, really funny (to balance out the sadness of letting go of youth) or go really, really dark (to emerge out the other side with black humor).
Stag does neither, opting for a painfully middle-of-the-road attitude and scattershot approach to character. Nothing is particularly funny or outrageous on this particular stag night, and the characters are often isolated, with no momentum driving the course of the night's events. We're not waiting for anything to happen, there's no quest to complete, so instead we wait as the minutes tick by. The ending ties everything up but feels terribly unsatisfying.
In the film's defense, it seems seriously hampered by budget. The look of the film is very much like a single-camera comedy you'd see on TV. The sets look goofy, things are shot with minimal coverage, and there's no flash to the visuals. The characters are often isolated, one suspects, because there was no budget to either get a bigger location, or they couldn't afford to pay the actors enough to get them all on set at the same time. There's nothing amateur about the proceedings, but it feels like pros working around having no money.
The DVD is fine, too. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is clean and well-saturated. Detail is fine, and the film maintains a pleasant digital feel throughout. No serious compression artefacts rear up. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track keep dialogue audible and the surrounds get a bit of use (though not much). The film's only extra is a trailer.
Those with a fond memory of Donald Faison from Clueless might want to rent Stag for a "Where are they now?" bit of fun. Everyone else is better off (re)watching The Hangover or any other classic stag-night comedy rather than this flick. Though I can't fault the presentation, even a rental is too much to give this flick.
Guilty of not going far enough.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vertical Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R