This entire movie is as unfortunate as Harland Williams trying to convincingly play a 30-year-old — which, coincidentally, is something that definitely happens in the film. Written and directed by Michael Rosenbaum, who cut his teeth playing Lex Luthor on the WB teen-drama Smallville just after the turn of the century, Back In The Day relates the entirely unremarkable story of a financially viable though creatively stifled actor come home to a small Midwestern town in search of his fading youth. Shot in Rosenbaum’s real hometown of Newburgh, Indiana, the film begs all sorts of questions, but chief among them is why the director would decide to do his place of origin such a great disservice.
Famous solely for a series of terrible, nationally-aired insurance company commercials, Jim (Rosenbaum) returns to his hometown on the occasion of his 10-year high school reunion. Immediately greeted by his old running crew and a slew of consummately immature jokes, the film wastes no time in showing its cards: we’re in for a painful onslaught of the kind of oddly-timed and shoddily executed body humor that would feel right at home on the cutting room floor of a Farrelly Brothers™ feature. Back In The Day eventually takes shape as a great number of gags, practical jokes, and situational comedy bits loosely held together by a narrative which seems to exist solely to provide a bit of context between what one could only assume sounded like really funny jokes when they were written.
As Jim and his closest male friends from his old high school days decide it’ll be a great idea to mix it up like they did when they were young, Rosenbaum sets up their juvenile hijinks in contrast with a saudade-esque longing for his erstwhile high school sweetheart, played with a barely contained sense of embarrassment by Morena Baccarin. Naturally, we’re never given any real reason to care about why it is Jim feels so melancholy about letting her get away, or to care if he wins her back or not. The sad part is that this tale of lost love and what might have been proves to be the sole coherent element of the entire film, the rest filled up by partially developed ancillary plots concerning the various colorful characters from Jim’s past who really haven’t changed all that much after all these years. From a squirm-inducing and overly drawn out lesson in how to throw one’s farts (courtesy of Harland Williams) to an unredeemably gross romance between Nick Swardson and Liz Carey, the majority of Back In The Day is taken up by short pieces that really have no business showing up in a long form feature length film.
As a comedy, Back In The Day fails not just because its jokes are so poorly conceived and executed, but also because Rosenbaum couldn’t really decide whether the humor of the story was meant to tie into a larger comment on fame, notions of success, and genuinely human connections, or if these endless fart jokes were supposed to just stand on their own. Content with neither option, he chooses both, and the results are understandably cringeworthy.