Buddy Games

★★1/2

I volunteered to review “Buddy Games” (now available on VOD and DVD and in select theaters) because my wife has a crush on co-writer, producer, director and star Josh Duhamel. (Well, that and since I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy I tend to dig dick and fart joke flicks.) When I pitched the idea of watching it with her she seemed nonplussed. Turns out we both enjoyed it for what it was – a slice of dumb, dirty fun that ain’t good so much as it is entertaining.

The Buddy Games are an annual tradition wherein six friends – Bob AKA “The Bobfather” (Duhamel), Durfy (Dax Shepard), Doc (Kevin Dillon), Zane (James Roday Rodriguez), Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl) and Dixon (Nick Swardson) – get together for a series of physical challenges (paintball, obstacle courses, corndog eating contests, etc.), drinking too much and clowning on one another. Tragedy strikes at one year’s festivities and the pals are separated for five years. They reunite to lift Shelly’s spirits as he’s fallen on hard times. Time’s been kinder to Bob, who sold his company for hundreds of millions of dollars and might soon be settling down with Tiffany (Olivia Munn). Tiffany doesn’t approve of The Buddy Games – Bob doesn’t care and offers a $150,000 kitty to the victor.

There’s a lot to admire about “Buddy Games” and a lot that’s off-putting. The result does sort of seem like a vanity project for Duhamel, whose Bobfather is always the smartest, coolest, wealthiest, best-looking cat in the room. (Granted, Duhamel might be all of these things in actuality?) Then again, Duhamel and his buddies back in North Dakota participate in real-life Buddy Games every year – perhaps the picture is a love letter to them and the tradition itself? I wasn’t especially crazy about the sexist representation of Munn’s Tiffany either – it appears she has no self-worth if she isn’t married to Bob. Munn and women in general deserve better. This is surprising and disappointing as a woman (Jude Weng) co-wrote the screenplay with Duhamel and Bob Schwartz (the real-life “Bobfather”).

In an interstitial on the DVD, Duhamel claims to be a comedy fanatic and said he was shooting to emulate the likes of the Farrelly brothers, Todd Phillips and Judd Apatow. In the picture’s sharpest moments it doesn’t stray too far from the mark. The movie’s undoubtedly dirty (you see a dude’s bare nutsack get punctured by a paintball), but it’s actually understated in other instances. There’s a sequence where the bros go to a bar (classily called The Spread Eagle) to compete in an “Intestinal Fortitude” challenge where they all take ex-lax  and must get a woman to buy ‘em a drink, dance with ‘em and give ‘em a kiss on the lips before the medication kicks in. I was worried we’d see diarrhea trickling out the cuffs of these guys’ pant legs sullying the dance floor. Thankfully, it’s mostly just fart sound effects and it’s actually pretty funny. Real restraint, ladies and gents!

The movie’s MVP is most assuredly Swardson, who’s hilarious here. I’ve been a fan of Swardson’s for a long time, but have always felt he works better as the sizzle as opposed to the steak. Give me Gay Robot (from Adam Sandler’s album Shh…Don’t Tell and Swardson’s Comedy Central series “Pretend Time”) or his turns in “Grandma’s Boy” (his car bed and “Dance Dance Revolution” performance had me rolling) and “The Benchwarmers” (he’s the only good thing about that movie) as opposed to “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.” He’s employed just the right amount here. As this is a WWE production, wrestler Sheamus also has a role in the picture. He’s surprisingly funny and does all of his scenes with Swardson – they have solid chemistry.

“Buddy Games” made me long for the halcyon days when my pals and I would party at our friend Okos’ place where we’d zip line off a cliff, jump a motorcycle off shit like we were Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape,” cut couches in half with a chainsaw and one time actually blew up a car. I’m lucky to be alive and these experiences make me the exact audience for “Buddy Games,” and yet I still have some reticence. That said, I kinda wanna watch the movie again and share it with my bros. To use the parlance of “Buddy Games” – I suspect it’s a grower as opposed to a shower.

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