Ricky Stanicky review: enjoyable US romp – with Melbourne gum trees

Peter Farrelly's Australian-shot comedy offers everything you might want in the way of silly distraction.

From a New York street in sunny LA to the surrounding desert standing in for alien planets, Hollywood has long transformed its natural and plasterboard-built locales into somewhere else. So why, then, does it feel so weird when Australia returns the favour?

Gum trees, is usually the answer. Any film shot here but faking there always bursts the bubble the second a eucalypt slips into view. Quite a few American productions did set up shop down under during lockdown, when much of the country remained open for showbusiness A-leaguers despite sealing the borders for the vast majority of residents.

Zac Efron spent a year living here during that tumult, during which time he shot Anthony Haynes’ outback dystopia Gold, and returned last year to shoot his latest comedy, Ricky Stanicky.

Slightly less cinematic than Haynes’ Mad Max-evoking thriller, it swaps that film’s Flinders Ranges setting for the not-quite-America of Melbourne’s (mostly) inner suburbs, including the glamorous locales of Crown Casino and Avalon Airport.

Efron plays Dean, best mates with JT and Wes (fellow Americans Andrew Santino and Jermaine Fowler). A Halloween 1999-set prologue starring Riley Stiles, Oscar Wilson and Gaius Nola as the younger lads establishes that the gang have used their made-up best friend ‘Ricky Stanicky’ as an alibi to get out of anything they’re not keen on for decades. That includes skipping out on JT and his pregnant partner’s baby shower to high tail it to the casino in (not really) Atlantic City for a boys’ night out.

But they may have deployed the dumb antics decoy one time too many for their suspicious families to swallow, with Love Me star Heather Mitchell – not entirely convincing with the accent – particularly suspicious. All of this leads to them foolishly hiring John Cena’s ‘Rock Hard’ Rod, a wannabe actor doing atrociously porny versions of famous singers’ songs at the casino, to fake being Ricky for a grand reveal/get out of jail card. What could go wrong?


Everything, is the answer in this classic farce set-up. As helmed by Green Book director Peter Farrelly, co-writing the screenplay with a dizzying list of fellow scribes, it’s an enjoyably dumb romp that, while it never reaches the heights of Cena’s hit comedy flick Blockers or even Efron’s High School Musical series, is pretty much perfect hangover viewing.

Efron and Cena bring a seemingly effortless charm to a pretty predictable plot that never goes wrong in ways you can’t see coming a mile off, including beginning with the tried-and-true poop in a bag on fire trick that accidentally sets a house on fire when the gang were trick or treating, complete with Freddy Kreuger and Austin Powers costumes, necessitating the creation of Ricky.

Ricky Stanicky. Image: Ben King/ Prime.

From there, as we pick up once they’re almost busted for skipping out on the shower, all manner of textbook calamities will befall them, including an unexpectedly early birth, animals out of control, thugs on their tail and their on-the-run cover-ups spiralling ever out of control.

Testing their closest relationships, alas none of the partners, played by Lex Scott Davis, Anja Savcic and Australian actor Daniel Monks, get much of a look-in. Props, though, for dodging the cheap-shot gay jokes that litter too many of these American movies with a well-handled bisexual subplot. Of course at least one man will don drag, with Cena’s take on an iconic Britney Spears look a sight to behold.

He does a lot of the heavy lifting here, continuing to flex his acting chops impressively as Rod/Ricky leaps one impossible hurdle after another to keep the scam running through plausible deniability, then weathering the afterburn when Dean and co try to cut and run.

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Australian cinematographer John Brawley delivers perfunctory, flat-looking visuals that don’t step up to his television work on The Great and The Morning Show, and some of the jokes, cheesy at best, miss the mark. However, Efron does land the line, ‘I feel like Jason Bateman in every episode of Ozark‘.

But if you’re in the market for a silly distraction after a long, hard day, this is pretty much the dictionary definition, even if it slightly overstays its welcome. Not that I begrudge him the gig, but I’m still unclear as to why Australian reporter Stan Grant turns up as himself in an Australian production feigning American, which is as confusing as those stick-out-like-sore-thumbs gum trees.

Ricky Stanicky premieres on Prime Video on 7 March.


3.5 out of 5 stars


Zac Efron, John Cena, Jermaine Fowler, Andrew Santino, Lex Scott Davis, William H Macy


Peter Farrelly

Format: Movie

Country: USA

Release: 07 March 2024