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Buddy Games: Spring Awakening

I think it's fair to say that I have, both personally and professionally, seen a lot of bad movies in my lifetime. Therefore, when I say that there's the distinct possibility that “Buddy Games: Spring Awakening” might be the single worst film that I've ever seen—wrestling that dubious title away from “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”—I want to assure you that I'm not merely indulging in a bit of hyperbole for comedic effect. In fact, the only thing holding me back from officially naming it the worst film ever is that it's so slapdash in its construction and inept in its execution that I am not entirely sure it should count as a film. 

For those of you who blessedly missed the original “Buddy Games” (2020), the directorial debut of actor Josh Duhamel, it told the tale of a group of six loathsome friends who reunite after a five-year estrangement to compete against each other in a series of stupid and often-disgusting contests they've been doing for years. (In one, the guys consume powerful laxatives and then see who can go the longest hitting on women in a bar before the inevitable occurs.) Here was a film that opened with a sequence in which a character gets his testicles blown off with a paintball gun (the act that inspired the aforementioned estrangement) and proceeded to go downhill from there. But the worst thing about it was that it gave us six of the most fatuous, odious, self-absorbed, and generally unlikable bro types ever created and then tried to gaslight viewers into sympathizing with them because of their bravery in standing up to an increasingly woke world they no longer understand. When it was all over, viewers could at least cling to the comfort that if Duhamel were allowed to direct again, it would almost have to be a step up from his debut. Oops.

This time around, four of the six—Bobfather (Duhamel, also returning as director and producer), Doc (Kevin Dillon), Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl), and Bender (Nick Swardson)—have absconded with the ashes of their late comrade, struggling actor Durfy (the one played by Dax Shepard in the original), and are determined to scatter them at the beach resort where they first devised the all-important Buddy Games that evidently remain their sole focus in life. (The other member, the gay Zane [James Roday Rodriguez], is left behind, primarily to set up a joke where he has to hide in his house from the deceased’s unhappy family and complain about going back into the closet.) The group is then startled to discover that spring breakers overrun the town and that the bar where they used to hang out has been running its own version of the Buddy Games. They are then compelled to enter against much younger teams.

Having established that less-than-startling premise, "Spring Awakening" tosses it aside to replace it with something infinitely worse. After going to an all-night party where they get wasted in wacky ways—one of them randomly eats mushrooms and discovers they are psychedelics—the guys are separated. Bob and Bender end up in the clutches of a bizarre cult led by the deranged Phoenix (Carmel Amit) that is determined to find alpha male types and put them through various tortures, hoping they will shed their manly ways and become well and truly woke. Meanwhile, Doc and Shelly set off in search of the woman that Durfy loved throughout that long-ago summer, on the belief that she has clearly been pining for him ever since. This quest leads them to a bed-and-breakfast run by a woman who is both horny and grotesque and later requires them to cook and eat a skunk at one point.

"Buddy Games: Spring Awakening" is so spectacularly awful in every imaginable aspect it boggles the mind why anyone at any point could have thought that any of it was a good idea. The guys are still repugnant jerks whose antics read more as pathetic than amusing—if any of them sat next to you on a bus in real life, you would immediately switch your seat and quite possibly your bus line. The gross-out gags are more tedious than amusing. Besides the aforementioned skunk bit, another vile cocktail is consumed, and a toe is shot off and then carried away by a dog in what is perhaps the least successful Kurosawa reference ever filmed. The jokes about the woke cult are so screamingly unfunny that it feels as if Bill Maher’s writers were brought in to punch down the script—lots of quips about pronouns, “-isms” and things being “triggering” or “mindful,” people somehow being offended by the term “summer” and jokes dumber than those. (The cult has a house run by a supercomputer whose full name is reduced to the acronym KAREN.)

Even if any of these jokes were close to being amusing, it wouldn’t matter. Duhamel again demonstrates absolutely no flair for storytelling or comedic timing—you get the sense he learned everything he knows about directing from his stint working on “Movie 43,” the infamous all-star disaster that nevertheless made me laugh more than I did here. (Granted, it was only once, but still.) The performances are pretty much atrocious across the board—Duhamel barely registers, Dillon merely repeats his “Entourage” schtick, and Bakkedahl and Swardson seem to be having a death match to see who can be the most repulsive of the bunch. (Trust me, there are no winners.) And just when you think it can’t get any worse, the film's final scenes strain for something resembling sincerity that rings so falsely, it's the closest the movie comes to inspiring laughter, albeit of the incredulous kind. 

Brimming with all the wit, good feeling, and coherence of an especially unhinged Twitter thread—the kind populated by people wondering why there isn’t a Men’s History Month—“Buddy Games: Spring Awakening” is the absolute pits. It has no moments of actual wit or humor (not even on the most basic gross-out level) and boasts the cinematic technique of a home movie. I would never criticize anyone’s sense of humor—we all find different things funny, after all—but if you ever meet anyone who confesses to finding any element of this film to be even remotely amusing, get away from them as quickly as possible and never look back.

In theaters now. 

Peter Sobczynski

A moderately insightful critic, full-on Swiftie and all-around bon vivant, Peter Sobczynski, in addition to his work at this site, is also a contributor to The Spool and can be heard weekly discussing new Blu-Ray releases on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing network.

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Film Credits

Buddy Games: Spring Awakening movie poster

Buddy Games: Spring Awakening (2023)

Rated R for crude sexual material, language throughout, drug use, some nudity and violent material.

95 minutes

Cast

Dan Bakkedahl as Shelly

Kevin Dillon as Doc

Josh Duhamel as Bobfather

James Roday Rodriguez as Zane

Nick Swardson as Bender

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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