As Netflix buddy comedies with Kevin Hart go, Me Time is a definite step up from The Man From Toronto, but it’s not exactly a basement-to-penthouse trajectory. It’s more like metaphorically climbing out of the basement into a lobby with multiple elevators, not knowing which one to take, and thus remaining on the ground floor, confused. Mark Wahlberg is a much better straight man for Hart than Woody Harrelson, but it might help if the writers knew what to do with that pairing. Wahlberg, who’s great at playing dazed or clueless, possesses the exact sort of deadpan to trigger Hart’s overanxious freaking out. (He also looks tall next to Hart, which may be a bonus.) But all too often, they’re stuck making fertilizer when they should be spinning comedy gold from the straw of its featherweight plot.
Give a cookie to writer-director John Hamburg, who wrote all the Meet The Parents movies and directed Along Came Polly, for naming Wahlberg’s character “Huck Dembo.” That’s arguably the funniest part of a movie that begins with Hart slipping on tortoise shit—twice. Hart plays Sonny Fisher, and unlike so many Hart characters, he’s actually really great at what he does: a super-househusband, he’s at every PTA meeting, makes perfect school lunches, helps his kids build dioramas and LEGO Death Stars, and always brings the good bagels to school meetings. Sure, he feels mildly out of his depth when attending work-related dinners with his superstar architect wife Maya (Regina Hall), but she can’t keep track of which languages her kids speak, so he’s got her there.
Huck Dembo (yep, still funny) is Sonny’s childhood best friend—a notion that the IRL eight-year age gap between the actors makes super-unlikely. For years, Huck has thrown the craziest YOLO-themed birthday bashes, which Sonny eventually tapped out of because he had a family, deciding that skydiving wasn’t the best idea for a responsible husband and father. But even though Sonny absolutely loves his superdad role, everyone else somehow seems convinced he needs a break. So at Maya’s urging, he bows out of a family vacation to stay at home by himself for a while, hoping other parent-friends might join him. When that doesn’t work, he finally—inevitably—agrees to go to Huck’s latest crazy bash.
That’s a whole lot of set up, but rather than delivering a payoff, the movie keeps offering new set-ups. It’s as if there were several ideas on the table, and the studio decided to use all of them at once, serving none of them properly. A suburban dad forced to thrive at a Burning Man festival gone wrong is funny. A jealous husband goaded into excessive revenge pranks by a best friend is funny. A super-efficient friend helping his reckless buddy out of debt to a loan shark could be funny too. But without picking one of those lanes and sticking to it, Hamburg never lets any of those establishing ideas escalate to the properly insane levels that are needed.
The Hangover movies, with a similar character dynamic, always understood which parts of the story were secondary while exploring the central mystery. Me Time is all side quests; Sonny’s only goal, to return to his regularly scheduled life, is never in doubt—the family will get back from vacation eventually, no matter what hijinks he gets up to in the meantime. As for Huck, as much as he occasionally shows signs of insecurity—for not measuring up to George Clooney—he’s so resilient that there isn’t much room for real growth.
It may simply be a sign of a long development process—and if so, why isn’t this more developed?—but jokes about, say, Burning Man and the LA Weekly aren’t exactly cutting edge. (Take it from someone who used to contribute to the latter.) A gag involving a turd on someone’s bed is probably coincidentally fresh thanks to the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard case—the timing doesn’t really work for it to be directly inspired—but the explanation of an “upper decker” is, of course, redundant to anyone who’s ever seen MacGruber.
It’s not just that more timely humor would do better; it’s that most comedy fans would probably rather be watching MacGruber again. Instead of sitting down for Me Time, do that, and hope that Hart and Wahlberg figure out a proper story next time that gives their chemistry somewhere to go.