‘Ricky Stanicky’ Review: John Cena Plays Zac Efron’s Fake Best Friend in Peter Farrelly’s Limp Return to Gross-Out Comedies

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‘Ricky Stanicky’ Review: John Cena Plays Zac Efron’s Fake Best Friend in Peter Farrelly’s Limp Return to Gross-Out Comedies

Well, it took Peter Farrelly exactly two movies to go from winning Best Picture back to making broad comedies about dog boners; I guess some people never change. Of course, “Green Book” was only about two dog boners away from being as dumb — or dumber — than a Farrelly classic like “There’s Something About Mary” to begin with, but even so, the funniest thing about “Ricky Stanicky” might be how recently its director was holding an Oscar on the stage of the Dolby Theater. 

Actually, no: The funniest thing about “Ricky Stanicky” is the sight of John Cena dressed as Alice Cooper and singing “Sploooooooge out. My. Penis” to the tune of “School’s Out” (for summer), which is one of the signature “jizz jams” his character performs at the semen-themed musical revue he launched after his dog-fucking show was canceled because “Atlantic City went all woke.” (To be clear: the dogs were fucking each other, but they were doing it in the missionary position. And if you don’t think you’re going to see that in action by the time this movie is over, you must be woefully unfamiliar with the cinema of Peter Farrelly.)

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Anyway, those are the two funny things about “Ricky Stanicky.” 

There are a few ironic things about “Ricky Stanicky,” a film whose title is more fun to type than many of its scenes are to watch, and this is one of them: Despite representing Farrelly’s inevitable return to the juvenilia that made him famous (a retreat that wouldn’t feel nearly as sheepish if this movie wasn’t being dumped onto Prime Video, and therefore deprived of the crowds that might inspire each other to embrace its stupidity), this is a story about a trio of manchildren who finally discover the courage to grow up.

It starts in 1999, when Dean (Zac Efron), JT (Andrew Santino), and Wes (Jermaine Fowler) were actually kids — the kind of kids who spend their Halloween throwing poop at people’s houses. Some important context: Wes is dressed up as a spotted dog with a boner. The first line of the movie is someone saying “what are you, a dog or a cow?,” and the second line of the movie is Wes replying: “I’m a dog with a boner, check it out.” 

So the boys’ mischief goes awry, and — oops — they set fire to the house they merely intended to cover with dog shit. That’s when one of them comes up with the perfect cover for their crime: They’ll leave a piece of clothing behind, write a name tag that says “Ricky Stanicky” in the lapel, and leave it behind to throw the cops off their scent. The plan works, the legend of Ricky Stanicky is born, and for the next several decades the boys use him as an alibi for all of the mishegoss they want to commit without telling anybody. 

When the story catches up with them in their thirties, Ricky Stanicky has clearly become a — very elaborate, very sad — way for Dean, JT, and Wes to shirk adult responsibility and just do whatever they want. Thanks to fake social media accounts (no selfies, I guess) and an ever-growing bible that keeps track of all the lies our heroes have told about their imaginary BFF over the years, Dean’s reporter girlfriend (Lex Scott Davis as Erin), JT’s very pregnant wife (Anja Savcic as Susan), and Wes’ largely absent boyfriend are all under the impression that Ricky Stanicky is a hero philanthropist who feeds starving kids around the planet whenever he isn’t fighting anal cancer or any of the other serious ailments that require his best friends to drop what they’re doing and go visit him in the hospital. 

Their reliance on Ricky Stanicky has clearly become pathological; Dean uses him as an excuse to avoid having a family, while the other guys… whatever. The script, which is credited to — deep breath — Jeff Bushell, Brian Jarvis, James Lee Freeman, Pete Jones, Mike Cerrone, and Mr. Farrelly himself, eventually makes some half-hearted overtures as to why Dean’s other friends are clinging to this adolescent fantasy, but let’s not pretend that it matters. All you need to know is that our boys conspire to ditch Susan’s baby shower and fly to Atlantic City. That’s where they meet aspiring thespian, committed alcoholic, and possible felon Rod Rimestead (Cena), a good-natured burnout whose life has been an endless domino effect of bad decisions, and whose ringtone is set to Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” How is he so jacked despite the constant drinking? “Anabolic steroids,” Cena deadpans. “I’m totally addicted to those too.” 

‘Ricky Stanicky’Ben King/Prime

Yadda yadda yadda, the gang misses the birth of JD’s son, JD’s mother starts to get aggressively suspicious about the whole Ricky Stanicky thing, and so our heroes make the fateful decision to cast Rod as the best friend they never had. From the moment he arrives in character at the baby’s bris, none of their lives will ever be the same.

As you may have gathered by now, Cena is the closest thing this movie has to a saving grace. This is hardly the first time the WWE superstar has weaponized the disconnect between his childlike goofiness and his Herculean physicality, but his peerless commitment to the bit — a skill honed during his years in the ring — has never been on such glorious display. Somehow both ultra-precise and totally elastic at the same time, Cena’s performance reflects the ethic of a seasoned pro who’s only so at ease on screen because he prepared to chop off a baby’s foreskin — with a cigar cutter — in a Peter Farrelly movie with the same focus and intensity that NASA prepared for the moon landing.

You don’t see Cena sweat, but you sure as hell see him not sweating, which might seem like the same thing if not for how perfectly that try-hard energy suits the character he’s playing: A guy who sees every day as an opportunity to turn it all around, and will do whatever it takes to seize on the openings that come his way. Rod is John Travolta, and Ricky Stanicky is his Vincent Vega. If only the world shared Hollywood’s affection for second chances.

“Ricky Stanicky” might have more dead air than a windowless nursing home, but Cena approaches every take as if he can simply will some fresh oxygen into the world’s mustiest film — as if his flawless comic timing might be able to save a movie whose jokes are all 30 years too late. That’s enough to make you root for Rod to succeed, even, or maybe especially, after he cozies up with Dean and JT’s boss (William H. Macy) and talks Ricky Stanicky into a permanent job at the same Rhode Island investment firm. 

‘Ricky Stanicky’Amazon MGM

Is it also enough to forgive the unimaginably labored 30-minute sequence where the boys accidentally dose a rabbi with ketamine? Probably not. What about the completely humorless bit where a girl with Rapunzel-length hair gets her locks caught in the ball retrieval machine at a bowling alley, or any of the strained comic setpieces that Farrelly was once able to contrive with the symphonic grace of Ben Stiller getting his nuts caught in a zipper at his date’s house on prom night? Your mileage may vary, but it’s probably safe to assume that most audiences will lose patience with the stale plot machinations of the movie’s second half, when “Ricky Stanicky” trades its high-key hijinx for a distended mess of sitcom-level shenanigans as the script finds the longest possible route to expose all of its lies. 

Through it all, Efron is stuck in his neutered role as the movie’s straight man, which is frustrating because he’s such a gifted comic actor in his own right (and terrifying because it forces you to recognize that the “Neighbors” star would be cast in the Seth Rogen role if that masterpiece were remade today). And while it’s recently been made clear that Efron is a gifted dramatic actor as well, there isn’t a person alive who could sell Dean’s extremely serious epiphany about why he’s always been so afraid of the truth, a pivot so wildly out of place that its unintentional humor proves funnier than most of this movie’s actual jokes. 

As awkward as that revelation might be (and as glibly as it’s incorporated into this script), it speaks to the ethos of a film that ultimately proves less interested in forcing its characters to grow up than it is in pushing them to accept the truth of who they are. In that light, Farrelly’s decision to direct “Ricky Stanicky” feels as fitting by the end as it seemed ironic at the start. This isn’t a story about growing up so much as it’s a story about being honest with yourself — and your loved ones — about the fact that you probably never will. Farrelly may have gotten an Oscar for pretending to be an adult, but he’s always going to care more about dog boners than he is about human drama. The problem with “Ricky Stanicky” is that anyone who’s seen “Green Book” already knows that. 

Grade: C

“Ricky Stanicky” will be available to stream on Prime Video starting Thursday, March 7.

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