Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg shake their sillies out in "Me Time," the raunchy, new comedy that audiences find easier to forgive than critics.
The movie, which arrives on Netflix Friday, has a screenplay credited to director John Hamburg, who scripted "Meet the Parents" and co-wrote and directed "I Love You, Man" and the seriously underrated "Along Came Polly."
Those are decent credits, but from the looks of "Me Time," Hart and Wahlberg are clearly winging it, a fallback position that can wreak havoc when there's no strong hand at the helm. Hamburg has let his stars trade party-time punches without a referee.
Hart, whose stand-up concerts draw armies of adoring fans, is an improv master on stage. But film is a trickier business, especially in a project that shamelessly recycles comic business from dozens of better, funnier movies.
Hart stars as Sonny Fisher, a stay-at-home dad of two who knows his job is just as crucial as that of his architect wife Maya (Regina Hall), the family breadwinner. She knows it too. That's why she offers to take the kids to visit her in-laws over spring break and give Sonny me-time to relax from his role as Mr. Mom, PTA president and director of the school talent show.
The children, Dashiell (Che Tafari) and Ava (Amentii Sledge), worry about mom's domestic skills. "Honestly, I have concerns," Dashiell deadpans. He's not wrong. When Sonny decides to reconnect with Huck Dembo (Wahlberg), the bachelor bestie he hasn't seen for years, the stage is set for an R-rated farce that quickly descends to being dim-witted and disposable.
Huck wants Sonny to join a bunch of his 22-year-old friends in celebration of his gala 44th birthday, which means heading out to the desert for a Burning-Man type rave featuring sex, drugs and rock & roll, all of which make Sonny feel guilty or nauseous -- or both.
When Sonny realizes Maya intends to spend part of her own me-time with her sleazy eco-tycoon boss, Armando (Luis Gerardo Mendez), jealousy sparks him to overindulge. Huck is no help. Staring at a photo of Armando, he gushes, "oh my God, he's stunning."
Wahlberg makes a droll meal of that line and holds his own with Hart even when the jokes tip over the line from crass to smutty. And Hart, usually the coolest person in the room, is forced into the corner of playing Sonny for one-note of zany exasperation that becomes grating.
Hart is too good not to get in a few licks. One scene in which he cuddles a lion cub turns hilariously terrifying when mama lion shows her disapproval. But hit-and-miss sight gags do not add up to the rowdy free-for-all that everyone clearly intended.
"Me Time" means to pay a hilarious and heartfelt tribute to dedicated dads everywhere and to show how Huck's immaturity gets old fast when we learn he's in debt to loan shark Stan Berman (Jimmy O. Yang) who is not above breaking limbs to make his point.
Eager to cut loose while preaching family values, "Me Time" is a movie at war with itself. But as summer gives way to the prestige Oscar films of fall, why grinch too hard at a scattershot romp that gets in enough laughs from Hart and Wahlberg to be worth at least part of your me time?
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