Prime Video's Ricky Stanicky Review: John Cena Is A Scene-Stealing Riot Opposite Zac Efron In Peter Farrelly's Mild Return To Gross-Out Comedy

I’m glad to live in a universe where this horny and hopeful lounge singer is played by WWE fave and future comedy legend John Cena.

Dean and Ricky in cowboy hat in Ricky Stanicky
(Image: © Prime Video)

The ‘90s were the halcyon days for gross-out comedies, with filmmaking siblings Peter and Bobby Farrelly leading the pack similarly to how Zucker-Abrams-Zucker reigned supreme in the world of spoof cinema. The duo struck gold with the 1-2-3 combo of Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary, with wildly varying results from 2000 onward, leading into the brothers going off to solo directing careers. And then along came Ricky Stanicky.

Ricky Stanicky

Jermaine Fowler, Zac Efron, and Andrew Santino having fun at a concert in Ricky Stanicky.

(Image credit: Amazon Studios/MGM)

Release Date: March 7, 2024
Directed By: Peter Farrelly
Written By: Jeff Bushell, Brian Jarvis, James Lee Freeman, Peter Farrelly, Pete Jones, Mike Cerrone
Starring: Zac Efron, John Cena, Andrew Santino, Jermaine Fowler, Lex Scott Davis, Anja Savcic, William H. Macy, Jeff Ross
Rating: R for sexual material, language throughout and some drug content
Runtime: 113 minutes

The 2010 Black List screenplay changed hands several times over the the course of twelve years, eventually landing with Peter Farrelly – who used it as a means to return to his slapstick, balls-out roots (metaphorically in this case). With Zac Efron and John Cena fronting the often NSFW chaos – and without Bobby Farrelly’s involvement – Ricky Stanicky is definitely cut from the same questionably stained cloth as the R-rated efforts Kingpin and Me, Myself & Irene

The movie, in which the power of friendship is built upon a foundation of lies, oozes the same kind of gloriously dumb humor that needs a smart person to make it funny, and I laughed from beginning to end while only occasionally judging myself for it. But though the overall story is pleasing and surprisingly sidesteps certain narrative tropes, the main thing holding Ricky Stanicky back from true greatness is the screenplay, which feels overwritten and underwritten all at once.

Ricky Stanicky handles its offbeat concept well but with zero valid subplots to balance the flow.

One of the admittedly great things about Ricky Stanicky is its elevator pitch. As children, three friends make up a kid with the titular moniker to get themselves out of trouble, and they spend the next 20 years evolving that deceit into an artform excuse to take mini-vacations and avoid less satisfactory obligations. As adults, the trio are forced to provide proof of his existence once their lies become uncontrollable, and they employ a struggling “actor” to take the part. It’s a setup and conflict with a wacky built-in solution. Nothing wrong with that.

Making things more troublesome for the central trio of Dean (Zac Efron), Wes (Jermaine Fowler) and JT (Andrew Santino)? They’re each at different stages in their romantic relationships. JT and his wife, played by Loudermilk fave Anja Savcic, are heading into parenthood; Dean and his girlfriend (Florida Man’s Lex Scott Davis) have happily been dating for a long while; and Wes’ lack of forward momentum is creating stress with his boyfriend. 

Understandably for a plot like this, all three of those partnerships are at risk because of Ricky, who the guys continuously excuse away as being busy with philanthropic duties around the globe. That’s where John Cena’s Rod comes in (pun flaccidly intended). An Atlantic City entertainer of sorts, he’s tasked with living up to the standards that Dean, Wes and JT have painstakingly set up over the years. 

All the cringe-worthy moments one might expect ensue, but with only one narrative to pay attention to, the story starts wearing thin as the movie hits the midway point. While Ricky Stanicky gets credit for avoiding certain moves that many R-rated comedies lean into and brandishes more heart than snark on its sleeve, any kind of B-plot would have allowed the main story to breathe easier and could have helped the underutilized significant others. This is somewhat helped by William H. Macy’s Summerhayes, Dean and JT’s affluent and oblivious boss, but his arrival just changes the story’s direction as opposed to supplementing anything.

For a gross-out comedy, Ricky Stanicky isn’t all that gross, and it lacks the off-the-wall energy of the Farrellys' golden era. 

I was a 13-year-old sack of unbridled hormones upon watching Kingpin for the first time in the weeks after its theatrical debut, and rather than witnessing more dorky duos running amok, it was all the grimiest bits of Dumb and Dumber expanding exponentially with even more comedy masterminds within the ensembles. The 1996 film set the high mark for low brow humor in my mind, and while it’s neither Bobby nor Peter Farrelly’s fault (and isn’t really a “fault” at all), I’ve always felt a twinge of disappointment whenever any of their later releases failed to dredge the same skeezy waters as the ones Woody Harrelson’s Roy Munson and Bill Murray’s Ernie McCracken bathed in. Still, out came those same hopes when it looked like Ricky Stanicky could be a return to form.

In the new movie, the majority of anything that could be conceived as gross is within the dialogue (which may or may not sometimes be accompanied by hand-mimed sexual acts). John Cena and William H. Macy play heavily into this material without anything getting very extreme on the visual side at any point. To that end, only a scant few moments come to mind with over-the-top physical comedy, gross or otherwise, that take things to a different level.

Do they hit? Absolutely, which is why it’s a shame this movie isn’t filled with them. As disappointing as it may or may not be, we’re not getting any scenes where Zac Efron’s hair is styled like a certain Cameron Diaz character’s was because of a certain bodily fluid, and there’s not even a single diarrheal explosion to be heard anywhere in the soundtrack. I mean, what are we even doing here?

Ricky Stanicky is undeniably John Cena’s movie, and it continues to prove he’s one of the funniest actors in Hollywood.

Peter Farrelly has worked with a slew of brilliant, top-tier actors, many of whom boast a history with sketch comedy along with proven dramatic chops – from Jim Carrey to Ben Stiller to Will Sasso and beyond. So I can imagine roughly 300 actors who could have played the part of Ricky Stanicky with ease, many of whom would have done somewhere between “splendid” and “zowie-wowie.” But I’m glad to live in a universe where this horny and hopeful lounge singer is played by WWE fave and future comedy legend John Cena.

Throughout Ricky Stanicky, Cena runs through a surprisingly deep gamut of character types and behaviors without missing a beat or feeling inauthentic. You buy him as a self-promoting casino singer who specializes in cosplaying performances for song parodies exclusively about masturbation. You buy him as someone trying to climb from rock bottom to whatever higher class will take him. You buy him as a (fictional) actor whose role research may be his most impressive value.

Also, because Cena is so genial even at his character's lowest points, it helps audiences buy into the idea that this doofus can't stop failing upwards after meeting Dean & Co. It's like Peter Farrelly is tapping into the reverse-logic of another craven '90s classic, Beavis & Butt-Head, in that the lead foursome manage to avoid certain worst case scenarios because of the unexpected ways other characters react to their damning behavior, as opposed to them facing constant admonishment and heightened peril.

I don't know that the next step for Peter Farrelly should be to direct a new Nutty Professor movie where, instead of just playing each of the main character's family members as Eddie Murphy did, John Cena plays every single character period. But if that did happen, I can hope the lesson learned here is to cut out 35% of the dick jokes and add 50% more head-bonkings, full-speed pratfalls, and characters' body parts getting caught on mechanical things. 

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.