This Is the Night movie review (2021)

“This is the Night” clearly aspires to be something along the lines of the wonderful semi-autobiographical films that Barry Levinson made about growing up in Baltimore in the Fifties and Sixties. Those films—“Diner” (1982), “Tin Men” (1987), “Avalon” (1990) and “Liberty Heights” (1999)—were wonderful because even if you never set foot in Maryland or did interesting things with a popcorn box, they still worked; Levinson tapped into universal feelings and emotions that were easily recognizable no matter where you came from or when you did it. By comparison, everything in “This is the Night” feels contrived and artificial, the cinematic equivalent of a bad theme restaurant. Not only does none of it ever work, there are times when it seems as if every single scene is trying to be the most awkward and unbelievable of the bunch. Trust me, there are a lot of competitors for this particular booby prize.

As for the ostensible hook, the “Rocky III” angle, it proves to be one of the biggest miscalculations. Lord knows I can be guilty of venerating the detritus of my youth at times (you don’t think I had to look up those release dates for “Star Trek II” or “Megaforce,” do you?) but whatever importance Stallone’s film may have had on a young DeMonaco, it does not translate well here. If he used the film to thoughtfully explore why even the most meaningless aspects of popular culture (and face it, “Rocky III” falls into that category) can have such a powerful hold on us, that might have been interesting. Instead, DeMonaco presents the veneration as a given and with a zealousness that is cringe-inducing at times, especially since the lesson sometimes learned is that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with a punch to the face.

Perhaps the best way to properly illustrate the massive failings of “This is the Night” is to point you in the direction of a film that tries to do many of the same things that it does, only infinitely better. That film would be “Matinee,” Joe Dante’s wonderful, if sadly underseen, 1993 film about a Florida teenager dealing with everything from confessing his love to his longtime crush to looming fears of annihilation brought on by the unfolding Cuban Missile Crisis, and finding inspiration from a William Castle-style schlock film producer who has arrived to preview his latest effort, “Mant!” Smart, funny, and knowing, the film worked beautifully as both a coming-of-age story and as a love letter to the potency of popular culture without ever succumbing to empty nostalgia and can be understood and embraced by anyone, regardless of whether they were around during the time it was set. By comparison, the only genuine feeling that “This is the Night” will inspire in viewers is a fervent wish that the film had simply ignored all of the yo-yos on display, and instead focused on those braver and wiser souls who chose to go to the town’s other theater and see “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” instead.

Now playing in select theaters.

You can view the original article HERE.

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