Vulgar coming of age comedies are a prominent staple in film, almost acting as a right of passage for their target generation (Superbad, Kick-Ass, and 21 Jump Street were some of my personal favorites growing up). Hulu’s latest foray in original movies The Binge attempts a similar feat with an intriguing Purge-light flavor, yet this promising venture never engages with its premise in innovative or humorous ways.
Set in a near-future where drug and alcohol use is legal for a single day, The Binge follows Griffin (Skyler Gisondo) and Hags (Dexter Darden), two dorky high schoolers looking to make the most of their last days before college. Once re-teamed with their old acquaintance Andrew (Eduardo Franco), the trio set out to make the most of their first binge while Griffin tries to ask his crush Lena (Grace Van Dien) to prom.
The Binge isn’t without some uproarious pleasures. The trio of young leads sturdily carry the material on their shoulders, sharing an easy-going onscreen rapport that imbues a semblance of reality to their debaucherous actions. The scene-stealer though is Vince Vaughn, who continues to take compelling risks in the second act of his career (Brawl on Cell Block 99 and Arkansas are severely overlooked). Tapping into the unfiltered comedic energy of his former heyday, Vaughn has a blast playing Lena’s father, the school principal whose paternal persona masks his partygoing past. Under different circumstances, this cast could pilot an agreeable moviegoing experience, as they often mine the most out of the wonky script.
Screenwriter Jordan VanDina deserves credit for his conceptual ingenuity, though it’s that exact promise that makes The Binge a frustrating watch. Instead of utilizing its premise to convey an empathetic examination of adolescents’ experimentation with drugs and alcohol, VanDina’s effort basks in the glow of superficially obscene moments. It leaves audiences with a film devoid of substantive merits, as it often feels disconnected from any sense of reality (characters do mountains of coke and other substances without an ounce of irony).
VanDina’s formulaic storytelling and paper-thin character work can’t ground the silliness, simply going through the motions while desperately lacking emotional authenticity (if you’re going to make another “last days of high school” movie, you have to bring some humanity and originality to spice up the formula). These problems would be more forgivable if The Binge could elicit some hardy laughs, but there’s not much fun to be had here. Jokes range from dated skits to downright mean-spirited barbs, leaving us with a dated relic to the early 2010s/post-Hangover comedies that tried (and failed) to push the envelope with raunchy gags.
Burying a promising set-up under mounds of familiar ingredients, The Binge does little to leave a notable impression.
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