Liquor and sex make Christmas an unholy mess in “Uncle Nick,” a suitably profane Yuletide vehicle for I’ve-seen-that-guy-before comedian Brian Posehn. Taking its crass Christmastime cues from “Bad Santa,” Chris Kasick’s directorial debut breaks little ground in detailing a Cleveland clan’s Dec. 24 gathering, which is torn apart by the resentments and jealousies of three siblings and their new relatives. Even at a brisk 81 minutes, this indie can barely sustain its boozy comedic buzz, but thanks to an amusingly dirty-and-dour lead performance, it should find a niche among those who prefer their holiday cheer dirtied up by some pitch-black humor.
First depicted sitting on his couch in nothing but boxers, bottles lining his coffee table and porn playing on his laptop, Uncle Nick (Posehn) is a lout who embraces, and embodies, his hometown of Cleveland’s sports-fostered reputation as “the Mistake by the Lake.” A sloppy bachelor who’s barely keeping his deceased father’s landscaping business afloat, Nick is a degenerate without much in the way of ambition or etiquette. Nonetheless, at the film’s outset, he pulls himself together — just enough — to get over to the ritzy suburban mansion of his brother Cody (Beau Ballinger), a long-locked, airheaded pretty boy who’s become the trophy husband of wealthy pharmaceutical saleswoman Sophie (Paget Brewster).
Total opposites in appearance and attitude, Nick and Cody share a combustible chemistry that’s bound to lead to fireworks, and that explosion is telegraphed by repeated interludes in which Nick recounts the famed events of June 4, 1974, when the Cleveland Indians’ decision to host a promotional 10-cent beer night resulted in drunken fans rioting in the stands and on the field. Those chapter-like vignettes, shot in black-and-white, amplify “Uncle Nick’s” atmosphere of mounting doom. However, like much of the story’s third act, they’re also unnecessary detours away from Nick and his brazenly inappropriate behavior, which is the film’s only significant source of humor.
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A towering figure with a fuzzy beard and prodigious beer gut, Posehn is most comfortable during early sequences that find Nick destroying decorative objects in Sophie’s house, spiking her eggnog with alcohol, standing up for Sophie’s computer-geek son, Marcus (Jacob Houston), and making passes at Sophie’s 20-year-old daughter, Val (Melia Renee), who dreams of dropping out of college to pursue the modeling career she’s already begun by posing for advertisements for Cody’s half-assed T-shirt business. Before long, Nick is lewdly sexting with the hot-to-trot Val – a pastime that culminates with him trying to send her a picture of his crotch and, when it fails, to comment at the dinner table: “It says the file is too big — Yeah it is!”
Posehn doesn’t attempt to make Nick charming, and his devil-may-care vulgarity is nicely matched by a streak of self-disgust, as when he greets Val with the corny “What’s crack-a … lackin?” with a look of embarrassment washing across his face. Unfortunately, “Uncle Nick” doesn’t provide him with a sturdy foil. Sophie and Cody are one-note stereotypes, and Nick’s sister Michelle (Missy Pyle) and brother-in-law Kevin (Scott Adsit), the latter of whom hosts a lame Indians-related podcast, are mainly around to provide additional voices to the increasingly contentious family chorus. By giving only Nick sturdy punchlines (including one in which he boosts his own ego by claiming to resemble Jason Statham), Michael Demski’s script loses any momentum the instant it shifts its attention away to supporting players and their ho-hum mini-dramas.
Those culminate with a distinctly unsurprising bombshell, though more problematic is the way the film seems to have been hastily assembled, such that no one has more than a single defining trait, and a couple of subplots — one involving the mounting medical problems of Nick’s mother, the other concerning the years-earlier Christmas Eve death of his girlfriend — are tersely discarded. Nick’s explanation of the rules to the family’s annual “White Christmas” game is shot by Michael Pescasio with a spotlight-enhanced visual flair that doesn’t carry over to the dull, monochromatic baseball scenes. Such pedestrian aesthetics are of little concern when Posehn is in his filthy element, yet that’s far too infrequently as “Uncle Nick” wends its way toward a weak finale that opts for the saccharine over the sour.