Spoilers Alert: Josh Duhamel’s directorial debut BUDDY GAMES is about a group of friends who, even in adulthood, engage in silly, pubescent competitions. We’ll reveal in our review whether it’s as good as “Catch Me!”.
OT: Buddy Games (USA/CAN 2019)
The plot summary
Once a year, the five friends Bob (Josh Duhamel), Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl), Doc (Kevin Dillon), Durf (Dax Shepard) and Bender (Nick Swardson) organize the so-called Buddy Games – a competition full of dangerous and pubescent tasks. When Shelly loses his testicles in a paintball accident during the buddy games one year, that’s all over for now. It wasn’t until five years later that Bob called for a comeback of the Buddy Games at the request of Shelly’s mother, who was worried about her depressed son. To do this, he has come up with lots of silly and dangerous tasks, such as taking laxatives and then approaching women in a bar. What is supposed to bring the friends together, however, puts a strain on his relationship with his still-estranged wife Tiffany (Olivia Munn)…
Grown men who act like children once a year by celebrating their friendship with a pubescent competition from their youth: This is reminiscent of “Catch Me!”, the refreshing, slightly self-deprecating and yet surprisingly heartfelt directorial debut of Jeff Tomsic, in in which Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm and Hannibal Buress play the craziest game of tag you can play – to which Annabelle Wallis, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones and Leslie Bibb respond with a variety of reactions. Everything from incomprehension to manic enthusiasm is there. “Buddy Games” seems like a “Catch Me!” pulled from a parallel universe: This comedy is also a directorial debut – namely by leading actor, producer and co-writer Josh Duhamel (“Transformers: The Last Knight”). This is also about grown men who, from childhood on, compete in absurd competitions year after year. And as in “Catch Me!”, this tradition, which some of the men with unequally gratifying careers have grown tired of, is once again celebrated in full glory because it would mean the world to one of them. Even the US poster for “Buddy Games” is reminiscent of one of the posters for “Catch Me!” – only both films play in completely different leagues.
Once a year the buddies meet for (mainly disgusting) competitions.
What sets “Catch Me!” apart is the fast-paced mix of ironically played-out absurdity and emotional honesty about the friendship dynamics: “Catch Me!” authors Rob McKittrick and Mark Steile use the crazy premise to express the feelings among men (especially in… Age of the protagonists) to comment on such widespread bad habits of pouring out their hearts to their friends only in fun, as well as to shed light on the joys and quirks of odd friendship models across genders and generations. “Catch Me!” is certainly not a profound parable about interpersonal relationships, but at least it has something to say about them and uses that to ensure that the game of tag that the film is about is more than pure chaos. The talented cast of course contributes a bit to this balance. “Buddy Games,” meanwhile, is what would probably happen if the “Childheads” characters made an Asylum rip-off of “Catch Me!” Stupid, loud, flashy and thoroughly unpleasant. It is stated that these characters are friends, but at no point is it made clear why. Again on the story level, even through the acting, there is even the slightest spark of affection between Bob, Shelly, Doc, Durf and Bender – and since they spend the majority of the film yelling at each other, swearing at each other, being annoyed or saying stupid things to each other It’s not like we want to be friends with them either. When Olivia Munn as Tiffany rolls her eyes at this clique, she is portrayed as an uncomprehending nuisance – but she is by far the most sensible person in this film. Consequently, it hardly ever occurs…
“’Buddy Games’ is what would happen if the ‘Childheads’ characters made an Asylum rip-off of ‘Catch Me!’ Stupid, loud, flashy and thoroughly unpleasant.”
Of course, a film can work even if it doesn’t have a single charismatic character. But a film that, with a chummy attitude, constantly rams its elbow into the audience’s ribs and looks expectantly, as if to say “Well, well, well, aren’t they great friends? Wouldn’t you want to hang out with them too?”… He wants to function through charisma and charisma. And “Buddy Games” doesn’t have anything like that to offer – and that’s not just because of how toxic the characters are at each other. Movie characters who are friends don’t have to be movie characters you want to be friends with: everyone in the wolf pack from “The Hangover,” for example, also has a stressful streak that only a fraction of the huge audience of the successful trilogy can deal with in real life would – but thanks to the cast, the script, which always finds moments to strengthen the bonds between the characters, and Todd Phillips’ cinematic direction that delights in the hustle and bustle, you can still enjoy these friends for the duration of the film’s running time .
Olivia Munn is also on board.
Duhamel, on the other hand, films the “Buddy Games” in a washed-out manner, finds no sense for the non-vulgar, spits out the vulgar without any motivation, and then the film also refuses to give the characters at least a tiny hint of development. You stay true to yourself, which is anything but a compliment here. If you consider that at the beginning of the plot they are not on good terms with each other, and at the end Duhamel claims in terms of the production that everything is now great, the discrepancy between “What Duhamel apparently thinks he is telling” and “What he is really telling” becomes clear clear enough. Only a flirting competition as part of the competition parade of the children at heart allows us to see what would have been possible in more capable hands: the late pubertal people drink laxatives and now, with this natural countdown in their necks (or rather: in their digestive system), they have to find a woman as quickly as possible to buy them a drink and dance with them. Anyone who shits themselves or goes towards the toilets loses. This is without a doubt one of the most vulgar tasks in the titular buddy games. But at least she’s creative. And the authors Duhamel, Bob Schwartz and Jude Weng use it to show all the opponents using their own flirting methods. They are tailored to the comedic strengths of the cast and drive the character development forward. Until the stomach rumbling, farting and whistling sound effects herald the return to everyday “Buddy Games” life…
“Duhamel films the “Buddy Games” in a washed-out manner, finds no feeling for the non-vulgar, spits out the vulgar without any motivation, and then the film also refuses to give the characters at least a tiny hint of development.”
Conclusion: If you are curious about “Buddy Games,” you should just watch “Catch Me!”
“Buddy Games” can be seen in USA cinemas from August 12, 2021.