If he had his way, Kunle would simply tuck away the biological cultures he’s been preparing for this college senior thesis and make an early night of it. After all, with his acceptance to a graduate program at Princeton, he’ll soon be on his way to a Ph.D. He might as well get into the habit of getting solid sleep and focused study time.
But Kunle knows this isn’t going to be an early night.
Tonight, you see, features Buchannan University’s “Legendary Tour” of frat parties. And Kunle’s best bud, Sean, is determined that they will both be the first Black guys in the university’s history to complete said tour.
If the pair can visit the seven main frat houses and tuck that little boozing, pot-smoking, edible-eating and sexual-dalliancing feat under their belts, they’ll get a plaque on the Wall of Firsts in the Black Student Union Hall. They’ll be right up there with the first Black newspaper editor, the first Black student union president, the first Black senator from Buchannan. Sure, their first may not be as lofty as all the many others, but it’ll be there.
That plaque is pretty much Sean’s high-water goal in life. He’s been constantly high—drinking and vaping at every turn over the past year—in preparation for the task at hand. So, the strait-laced Kunle is ready to go along and give his friend his best shot at the challenge.
Problem is, the evening doesn’t quite start out the way Sean planned. Sean may be adequately boozed and buzzed. But when the guys head back to their apartment to change for the happenings … they find an unconscious white girl in the middle of their living room floor.
Kunle, who’s first-aid certified, does the smart thing and makes sure the blitzed young woman doesn’t choke on her own vomit. Then he moves to call 911. But Sean isn’t so level-headed. All he can see is cops rushing in, finding a white girl on their floor and shooting them both—no questions asked. How will they make it to the parties then?
After running through their options—which include leaving her on the sidewalk out front or dropping her on the front yard of one of the frat parties—they agree on a course of action: get her to a hospital and kinda leave her out front there.
Ah, but that isn’t what the fates have in store for this night: Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. One idiotic choice leads to another. Before you know it, their head-lolling passenger’s sister is convinced that her sis has been kidnapped by some suspicious molesters. And with tracking app in hand, she and her friends give chase.
It’s gonna be a long night.
The fact is, everybody in this fumbling scenario wants to do the right thing—at least as it relates to the unconscious young woman that they’re suddenly trying to save.
Neither Kunle, Sean or their roommate Carlos have any idea how the heavily inebriated and unconscious girl, Emma, got into their apartment, other than possibly staggering over from one of the nearby frat houses. (And every choice the trio makes after finding her turns out to be a disaster.) But they all want to help Emma if possible. That’s particularly true for Kunle. He goes to great lengths to stay by her side, even after his friend, Sean, bails. Kunle applies CPR when it looks like Emma may be dying.
The police want to serve and protect, too. Once the girl is reported as having been kidnapped and possibly molested, they leap into action and treat the situation as what it, for all intents and purposes, appears to be. They also treat everyone fairly after determining what exactly has transpired—in spite of the fact that Kunle and friends made some incredibly dumb choices.
Even Emma’s sister, Maddy, is trying to help. Maddy made her own set of foolish choices that led to losing track of her underage sis to begin with. But once she realizes that Emma may be in trouble, she goes to extremes to find her.
After all of the craziness of the night is over, the friends apologize for harsh things they said to one another in the heat of the moment.
Sean jokes in crude ways about how a female classmate wants to have sex with Kunle. One of the frat parties is labeled an “ABC” party (anything but clothes) and we see a variety of male and female students dressed in makeshift outfits and baring lots of skin. Another party features young women in bikinis and underwear. We see two posters of topless women with their hands over their breasts.
There’s quite a bit of thumping and bumping—between people stumbling about and falling over—during the course of the comedic portion of film. At one point, Emma wakes up enough to realize she’s in a van with three strangers. She starts screaming and kicking, hitting the van driver in the head and causing them to crash into a tree. She also kicks one of the guys in the nose, splitting it open and covering his face in blood. Later, Maddy hits one of the guys with a stick several times.
Emma goes into cardiac arrest, and Kunle applies CPR to keep her going. In the midst of this, the police catch up to the van and call for the guys to pull over and release the hostages. The guys ignore the police and race on to the hospital where they’re then pulled out. Kunle is dragged away from his CPR at gunpoint and slammed to the tarmac outside the van.
This pic sports more than 100 f-words and nearly 40 s-words. There are also many uses each of the words “a–,” “b–ch and “d–n.” God’s and Jesus’ names are both misused a total of six times (three of those combining God with “d–n”). There are crude references made to both male and female genitalia.
We hear two distinct variations of the n-word used over a dozen times total.
Drugs and alcohol are both abused in abundance here. We see scores of students drinking, smoking various drug paraphernalia and eating edibles. Many of them dance and run around stoned out of their minds. And authority figures on campus turn a blind eye to it all, except for police at one traffic sobriety checkpoint.
Sean can’t seem to stop puffing on his vape pen and dulling his senses, no matter how intense the evening gets. He also drives the van they’re in, even though he’s quite stoned. In fact, while dragging the completely blitzed Emma around, he notes that her condition is no big deal: “I’ve been this drunk before.”
We also find out that Emma is just a senior in high school, invited to the party by her older sister. But Maddy lets her stagger off while getting high with a couple guys.
Carlos inadvertently pours one of Sean’s spiked beverages down Emma’s throat in an attempt to hydrate her when she starts coming around. Even after a disastrous night, the next day finds both Sean and Carlos smoking joints once more.
Kunle is the only one who abstains. And he makes the wisest suggestions, though no one wants to listen to him.
Nearly everyone involved (other than the police) makes bad choices that are exacerbated by the excessive boozing and drug use that’s swirling around them.
Emma vomits several times. Sean harbors some prejudicial ideas about whites and their reactions to Black people. He assumes that cops are all racist. “We call the police, we die,” he tells Kunle. And though Kunle pushes back on those statements, by the end of the evening, Kunle begins seeing and fearing those racist implications, too, even when the police are making choices that aren’t race driven.
At a frat party, a guy urinates on a football team totem posted outside. When Emma has to urinate, the guys drag her out to a wooded area.
To put it plainly, Emergency is a tonal mess.
It starts off as a crude booze- and drug-infused giggler (that ought to make parents of potential college students quake in their boots). It then evolves into something closer to a slapstick comedy of errors. In the end, it smash-cuts into a dramatic ending designed to make important statements about race and friendship.
Along the way, stupid choices abound.
Oddly, however, it’s those last two elements that deserve a bit of attention. This pic doesn’t stick to the simplistic, prototypically prescribed view of our tug and pull with race. Instead, it warns that when you combine preconceived racial expectations with foolish choices you create a scenario that can almost become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
That’s a thoughtful and interesting take for a modern race-focused dramedy.
Of course, all of this pic’s blitzed besottedness and prodigious profanity makes the trip to that kernel of insight a noxious slog.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.