The New R-Rated Raunch Comedy That’s As Funny As Modern Movies Are Allowed To Be

By Joshua Tyler | Updated

Early in his career, legendary comedy writer/director Peter Farrelly helped pioneer what became the big-budget raunch-coms of the late 90s and early 2000s. He did that primarily by making movies about guys who would do anything to be with girls. Now, he’s come full circle by joining a growing group of R-rated comedies about guys who will do anything to get away from women with his new movie Ricky Stanicky.

R-rated comedies peaked and then faded away at some point in the last decade. In the past two years, thanks to streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix, they’ve seen something of a resurgence, but they’ve taken on a new form. They’re focused on repressed middle-aged men engaged in carefully measured, usually secretive, mini-rebellions against their female counterparts.

The comedies are still R-rated, but their goals are different. Gone are the constant gross-out shocks and male pursuit of sex. In their place is the more currently talked about, basic male pursuit of the freedom to do what you want. 

Ricky Stanicky Peter Farrelly comedy review

That’s how Ricky Stanicky came into being. Three friends invent a fake persona and blame him whenever they need an excuse to do something that might otherwise be frowned upon.

What started out as a childhood trick becomes a lifelong series of lies revolving around the fictitious Ricky. This goes on for decades until, eventually, two of the trio get cornered by the women in their lives and decide the only way out of it is to make Ricky real.

They hire a drunk actor named Hard Rock Rod (John Cena), who takes his new role more seriously than they could ever have imagined. Suddenly Ricky Stanicky is in their living rooms and their board rooms, charming their wives and coworkers. And, as you’d expect, it soon goes too far.

John Cena as Hard Rock Rod in Ricky Stanicky

This new iteration in the R-rated comedy genre is less raunchy and also less funny. Like nearly everything the entertainment industry produces now, it misses out on going to the next level by playing it safe in a way a Farrelly Brothers movie from the 90s would never have. 

That’s not exactly a knock on Peter Farrelly who, after winning awards with the drama Green Book, has bravely soldiered forth into the world of humorless cancelers and censors alone, without the help of his one-time collaborator and brother Bobby Farrelly. Peter is determined to make people laugh, and he’s checking off all the modern boxes he’s required to check in order to be allowed an attempt.

One of the problems with playing it safe is that all your characters end up having to be good guys when some of them clearly should be jerks. Zac Efron is Ricky Stanicky’s lead, and he’s so much better at playing a jerk than a hero that he seems uncomfortable when, at the movie’s end, his character takes a hard right turn toward the sympathetic. It’s like watching James Bond wear a badly tailored suit.

Zac Efron and John Cena in Ricky Stanicky
Zac Efron and John Cena in Ricky Stanicky

This is the reality of the guardrails current year culture has demanded comedic talent like Farrelly’s must operate in. For a time, it seemed like those guardrails had become so confining that comedy movies were dead altogether. Now a small and growing wave of movies like Ricky Stanicky are pushing forward in a bid to bring for-adults-only laughter back.

Comedy movies will never be as funny staying inside these new comedic traffic cones, and they will never be big, money-making blockbusters again. The days of event comedies like There’s Something About Mary or early Judd Apatow movies like Knocked Up are long gone and unlikely to return.

Since there’s no change in sight that might bring those carefree, free-speech days back; if you’re looking for a new Farrelly brothers-style movie, then Ricky Stanicky is about as good as modern comedy is allowed to get. Whether the constraints that make it this way are good or bad, I leave up to you to defend.

Ricky Stanicky comedy review


Ricky Stanicky is available to stream free for subscribers on Amazon Prime Video.