I wasn’t a fan of the original The Binge, which, although a parody of The Purge by making alcohol and drugs legal for twelve hours once a year, could’ve been fun, completely squanders its premise through gross-out humor and a glorification of products that destroy the lives of millions of people worldwide. Let’s be honest here; all these characters would die after consuming everything they consumed.
However, It’s a Wonderful Binge is entirely different from The Binge and is quite funny from start to finish. Is it a refined comedy where you’ll learn much about the meaning of life? Not really, but its drug-crazed antics are much funnier than in the previous film, and the characters now seem to realize that drugs are indeed bad and try to moderate their consummation of narcotics as much as possible.
Of course, Hags (Dexter Darden) and Andrew (Eduardo Franco) will still get in major trouble, but their antics seem more earnest than mean-spirited. And it doesn’t end in a climax where they think they will become legends by overdosing on large amounts of cocaine and reciting lines from Oliver Stone’s Scarface. It partly has to do with the fact that The Binge has now been moved to Christmas Eve, so families can get drunk and high together (it makes perfect sense when you think about it). However, Hags doesn’t want to Binge but propose to Sarah (Zainne Saleh) after getting her father’s (Tim Meadows) blessing.
Andrew has troubles of his own — his family disowns him, with his mother (Eileen Galindo) revealing at the dinner table that he wishes he was never born. After falling from a bridge while being attacked by a Christmas Owl high on Ketamine (this feels like subliminal preparation for Elizabeth Banks’ Cocaine Bear), Andrew meets Angel (Danny Trejo), who takes him on a literal and figurative [drug] trip to see an alternate future where he didn’t exist, presented in black and white in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Those scenes are a riff on Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and while the production design and cinematography are as clean as possible, they’re the weakest parts of the movie. Trejo and Franco seem to have fun, but the jokes feel tired at best, and the journey doesn’t seem emotionally invested. It also feels weird to have big, emotional swings in a film that supposedly celebrates debauchery and glorifies drug excess to the point where the Winter Wonderland celebration gets hijacked by high-as-a-kite citizens.
Overall, the emotional swings don’t work. Yes, I understand that Christmas movies are usually heartwarming and convey a positive moral near the end. Still, it didn’t feel earned because most characters are dazed by the film’s end. Still, the performances are pretty good, especially Darden, who seems to have more fun this time around as Hags than in the previous movie. Unfortunately, this installment doesn’t explain Griffin’s (Skyler Gisondo) absence, as he was the best part of the first movie.
One of the better additions (and it should come as no surprise to anyone who watched She-Hulk: Attorney at Law) for this installment is the inclusion of Patty Guggenheim as Pompano Mike’s (Tony Cavalero) lover, Delray Donna. The laughs are enormous when she shows up and acts as high as possible, and she’s as funny (if not funnier) than her tenure as Madisynn King (two Ns, one Y, but it’s not where you thiiiiiiiiiiink!) in She-Hulk. Danny Trejo is also an excellent addition to the cast as Angel, but Nick Swardson is another show-stealer as Uncle Kris, Kimmi’s (Marta Piekarz) felon uncle who broke out of prison to celebrate The Binge with his family, and who may or may not also be Santa Claus. You be the judge.
Because of the strong cast’s abilities to convincingly play drunk and high (I cackled so hard at Pompano Mike going “Terminator 2! Terminator 2! Terminator 2!” as he attempts to break out the protagonists from their prison cell), the physical comedy in It’s a Wonderful Binge works brilliantly, and to an effect where you start having fun with the cast as they get into even crazier antics by taking in even more significant amounts of drug and alcohol.
And compared to the first film, it’s not as mean-spirited in its willingness to showcase the main characters frying their brains out and going on a quest to kill themselves through excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol. Instead, they’ve evolved from the first time and attempted to make mature decisions, even if that doesn’t necessarily work. Because of this, I started to enjoy myself in a movie I didn’t think I would like very much but was still able to take me by surprise from beginning to end. And that’s a pretty satisfying feeling if you ask me.
It’s a Wonderful Binge is now available to stream on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ in Canada.