Travis Leamons // Film Critic
The one-line pitch is an inescapable means to condense a movie’s concept in a simple fashion. When DIE HARD became a hit blockbuster, it gave us countless “It’s like DIE HARD but set in/on…” imposters. A newer hook is taking dissimilar movies and mashing them together. Which is what Hulu gives us with THE BINGE, a misadventure comedy about three high school seniors and a 12-hour period where drugs and alcohol are completely legal.
In a nutshell: SUPERBAD meets THE PURGE.
Its opening montage pulls from the “Just Say No” campaigns as it crosscuts between drug-fueled shenanigans. Simultaneously, a Morgan Freeman-sounding narrator explains how America enacted “The Binge” to decrease the pain caused by drugs and alcohol. Each year, anyone 18 and over can do anything from tequila shots to snorting the Devil’s Dandruff or even eat burritos stuffed with magic mushrooms. As long as it happens in the designated 12 hours, and you don’t do anything felonious (get a DUI, for instance), it’s 100% legal.
Ostensibly, this drug comedy should be a nice riff on prohibition. Alas, screenwriter Jordan VanDina fails to build up his world – where in the future, a grown-up’s idea of living it up is playing Yahtzee with the kids and drinking root beer floats while others are getting toasted or wasted. Missing is the insight. The audience just has to accept the idea that taking away booze and drugs from society for 364 days a year will bring happiness. But crack open a cold one, smoke a little reefer once a year, and jackassery invariably ensue.
If anything, this future is a bland new world, where we’ve apparently regressed to LEAVE IT TO BEAVER-ville. The most radical idea put forth in the script is only referenced in passing: On Binge Day, the police can actually auction off drug seizures to the highest bidder to fund the department. And I’m not entirely clear as to why high schoolers are so eager to go bingeing when they’ve grown up in a culture where drinking is an uncommon occurrence. Perhaps in this alternative world, the preaching of sexual abstinence has been replaced with a binge ed curriculum. Tell somebody not to do something, and eventually, he feels the urge. Until then, they spin myths on what happens when you drink and do drugs.
So, in the tradition of teen comedies SUPERBAD and the more recent BOOKSMART, we have the FOMO-one-night-to-make-everything-great set up as two best friends get ready to attend the biggest Binge party in town. Griffin (Skyler Gisondo) is the reluctant one, nebbish but willing if the party can earn him a date to the prom with his longtime crush Lena (Grace Van Dien). Then there’s his best friend, Hags (Dexter Darden), whose eagerness for liquor libations and taking drugs is as fervid as his positivity. Hags is so pumped that he invented a “booze cruise” cycle that seats ten but requires more than just him and Griffin to pedal. Enter the movie’s McLovin, turning the duo into a trio, with weird kid Andrew (Eduardo Franco), an old friend that drifted apart over the years.
Griffin’s feebleness, Hags’s wisecracks, and Andrew’s peculiar nonsequiturs don’t provide the comic highlights like one would imagine (though Andrew’s deadpan responses come close). That honor goes to the comedy’s biggest star, Vince Vaughn, as Principal Carlsen. He brings back his staccato pattern of profaneness as Lena’s overprotective father and someone who abdicates to his students the perils of bingeing. His show-and-tell sermon in the school gymnasium could have been labeled “Scared Straight! (for Millennials).”
Vaughn energizes the comedy whenever present; an auto-corrected text from Griffin to his daughter sends him out looking for her. This presents a duel of awkward misadventures where the teens and Carlsen must overcome various obstacles: marijuana laced with PCP, a wine party with sexually-excited student mothers, and PULP FICTION-ing a cow with an adrenaline needle. Someone ends up losing part of an eyebrow, another takes a dart to the nethers, and there’s a mind-alternating song-and-dance number that offers a different kind of “high” school musical.
Woefully though, THE BINGE can’t hold its liquor or humor. What laughs it does generate are few – the thinking being the premise was all that was needed. Nope. There are maybe two strong laughs and a few smiles, particularly Carlsen and the finale, where the three friends participate in the Gauntlet, which is the town’s biggest Binge Day competition (with challenges like “Alligator Donut” and “Cocaine Scarface”). Too bad VanDina’s story is just a bad batch of half-baked comedy. It’s OK for what it is, but there are far better drug comedies to sample.
THE BINGE is now available to stream on Hulu.