Film reviews and more since 2009

Ricky Stanicky (2024) review

Dir. Peter Farrelly

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

While I know I might not always succeed in this approach, I always try and assess a film on what it’s attempting to do. Call it the Ebertian school of thought. I make no qualms that it’s an original approach. I should probably be more mature than I am at this current stage in my life, but I’d be a liar if I said that Ricky Stanicky — a film that’s overarching theme is that lying is bad and leads to lasting repercussions — isn’t one of the most enjoyable comedies I’ve seen in months.

You could say that my feelings are a direct result of mainstream comedies going the way of the dodo in recent years, but that would shortchange Ricky Stanicky and what makes it successful. This is a film that takes a pretty elaborate concept, particularly for a comedy, and milks it for all its worth. It finds the right comedic beats, develops its characters, nails most of its attempts at shock humor, and ultimately stumbles into an effective moral along the way.

It all starts in 1999 when three kids accidentally set fire to a home in attempt at an innocent Halloween prank. To avoid getting caught, they frame a kid who doesn’t exist. His name is “Ricky Stanicky” (I won’t dare reveal how they frame him). The three friends keep the con going for decades, well into adulthood. Even into their thirties, Ricky Stanicky is still the metaphorical devil taking the blame for all their sins.

The friends, Dean (Zac Efron), JT (Andrew Santino), and Wes (Jermaine Fowler), grow up to lead successful lives. Dean is dating a news reporter named Erin (Lex Scott Davis); JT’s wife is expecting a child, and Wes has a supportive boyfriend. The men have kept track of all their misdeeds they’ve blamed on Ricky Stanicky with a handwritten “Bible.” As they’ve aged, they’ve told their partners that Ricky is a somewhat reformed individual. While he has worked with Ebola-stricken patients in Nairobi, he also remains responsible for their selfish acts. For example, the three ditch JT’s baby shower to go to Atlantic City, telling their families that Ricky’s cancer has returned.

JT’s wife winds up having the baby while they’re in Atlantic City. Unable to get ahold of them, their spouses called every hospital in the area and discovered there is no Ricky Stanicky. The men double-down. Ricky just wanted a boys night out. Now, the ladies want to meet this fabled individual. They hatch a plan. They contact “Rock Hard” Rod (John Cena), an X-rated lounge singer and struggling actor they meet in Atlantic City. Dean, JT, and Wes took pity on the man, and now want to offer him the role of a lifetime: be Ricky Stanicky for a few hours, so their family believes he’s existed this entire time.

Rod, who has nothing better to do then get drunk and avoid some mysterious men who have been following him for some reason, has nothing better to do than go along with it. He studies the friends’ Bible and wins over everyone in their lives, including Dean and JT’s boss (William H. Macy).

It’s been a hot minute since we’ve had a comedy with a concept so elaborate. Ricky Stanicky is the work of Peter Farrelly, who taps into the sensibilities him and his brother, Bobby, employed in the 1990s. A film with a whopping six credited writers should not be this funny nor poignant, but Farrelly finds the same winning combination of stupidity and heart in this material that he used to make Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary so effective and funny.

Much of that is due to John Cena, who essentially plays two characters in the film. At first, he’s “Rock Hard” Rod, a total stooge of a performer who makes turns popular songs into masturbatory parodies (Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” ‘for summer’ becomes “Splooge out. My. Penis.”). He’s often incoherently drunk and a justifiably unemployed actor. Once he arrives at JT’s son’s bris, however, he becomes Ricky Stanicky, a man who has seen and done it all. His range, both comedic and dramatic, shines brightly on-screen. Cena hasn’t been afforded this meaty of a role since The Wall.

Meanwhile, after several lame comedies, Efron has finally found a comedic role worthy of his talents. His character, Dean, is afforded layers in the third act, and Efron handles them with ease. Furthermore, Andrew Santino plays a man of unbridled arrogance seldom seen since Matt Czuchry’s turn as Tucker Max in [i]I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell[/i]. A standup comic, Santino delivers his acidic lines with all the conviction you want from a contemptible bastard who commands your attention. Supporting characters, from Macy to Jeff Ross as a rabbi, also shine thanks Farrelly and company’s ability to afford them memorable scenes as opposed to leaving them stranded on the island of extended cameos.

Ricky Stanicky is the kind of movie that would’ve caught on quickly in the mid-aughts. It would’ve enjoyed a lengthy run in theaters, and probably would’ve gotten one of those “Unrated Director’s Cut” DVDs. It’s unfortunate that a comedy this consistently funny is now relegated to streaming, even if it assures more people might “watch” it. You might be proud of what you find yourself laughing at, but you’re happy it’s material done well enough to warrant such a reaction.

NOTE: Ricky Stanicky is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Starring: Zac Efron, John Cena, Andrew Santino, Jermaine Fowler, Lex Scott Davis, Anja Savcic, Jeff Ross, and William H. Macy. Directed by: Peter Farrelly.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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