Buddy Games movie review & film summary (2020)

The rest of “Buddy Games” is a tortured, dim, and unbearably neurotic comedy about five self-styled alpha males who think that their lives would be so much better if they could just comfortably waste their own money on the titular competition—a “Jackass”-style gauntlet of gross-out competitive stunts—and never have to worry about whether or not they’re nice guys. They’re not, by the way, though that’s probably obvious from the establishing scene where Shelly slaps Mark (Randy Rafuse) in the face with his low-hanging fruit while boasting about not having showered for three days. If this guy doesn’t deserve his comeuppance, I don’t know who does.

Still, Duhamel and his two co-writers pay a lot of lip service to the proud heterosexual tradition of rich men negging each other, and then applauding themselves for their “tough love,” as Zane (James Roday) boasts later on. Rich guy Bob (Duhamel) treats his friends to a lavish obstacle course that looks like a wealthy mook’s version of “American Ninja Warrior,” complete with electric eels, mud pit, and a “big-ass waterslide.” Bob waits five years before reinstating the Buddy Games because it takes him half a decade to learn of Shelly’s predicament (and only because his mom tells Bob). Shelly’s buddies tried to reach out to him between now and then, but he didn’t respond to them (“I just had a lot on my mind”). That little narrative ellipsis is more telling than the rest of the movie’s convoluted plot: Shelly didn’t want to talk to his friends, so they shouldn’t have to feel bad for him.

But they do feel bad, especially Bender, who raises $10,000 in cash to enter the Buddy Games, though the competition doesn’t have an entry fee, by prostituting himself and selling vodka in his mini-van (don’t ask, it doesn’t get funnier). Bender also tries to appease his guilt by offering Shelly a refrigerated humidor full of his own semen. That gift is predictably the set-up to a dumb third act punchline later on, as one might expect based on the comedic law of Chekhov’s Swimmers. But that doesn’t stop Bob and the gang from wringing their hands while also boasting about how accomplished and vain, but also self-conscious and ultimately generous they all are. They kid because they love, but really, they only love themselves. Or parts of themselves.

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