ROUGH NIGHT (2017)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoe Kravitz, Paul W. Downs, Demi Moore, Colton Haynes, Ty Burrell, Ryan Cooper, Enrique Murciano, Dean Winters, Devin Ratray, Eric Andre, Patrick Carlyle, Bo Burnham, Hasan Minhaj, Karan Soni and Laura Grey.
Screenplay by Lucia Aniello & Paul W. Downs.
Directed by Lucia Aniello.
Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 101 minutes. Rated R.
Ads are promoting Rough Night as being similar to such basically harmlessly black comic films as The Hangover or Bridesmaids. However, the storyline is actually much closer to Very Bad Things, a totally pitch dark and mostly forgotten Peter Berg comedy from the late 90s about a bunch of guys (Christian Slater, Jon Favreau, Leland Orser, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, et al) who travel to Vegas for a wild bachelor party. During the party, one of them mistakenly kills the stripper, and they spend the rest of the film trying to cover up the crime.
Well, Rough Night does borrow the dead stripper idea. Rough Night just takes the premise and does it with a bunch of women.
However, did I mention that Very Bad Things was dark? Like really, really dark? Like dark, dark? Pitch dark? No sun anywhere?
Rough Night does not have the bravery to give in and wallow in the darkness of the situation like that film. Despite its very disturbing set up, the movie tries to keep things light, just a Judd-Apatow-esque sheen of edgy seriousness in an otherwise fairly feel-good comedy. They even stick on a completely superfluous crime subplot to make sure the heroines don’t look too bad, and essentially defang the situation.
Perhaps it is even the smart approach. There is probably a reason that Very Bad Things is essentially forgotten less than 20 years on, it may have been too determinedly downbeat for its own good. No one ever got that far making its audience supremely uncomfortable. So while Rough Night borrows the premise and the basic vibe of Very Bad Things, it does it in a much less threatening way. So they leaven things with a bit of The Hangover here, a bit of Weekend at Bernie’s there, a hint of Bridesmaids or Bachelorette as a garnish.
So Rough Night is a kinder, gentler Very Bad Things. The more important point is this: is it funny?
Mostly, yes. Occasionally a little dumb, sometimes strangely cartoonish, but mostly, yes, it is funny.
We meet our heroines – at least most of them – in a flashback scene from college. Jess (Scarlett Johanssen), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Grazer) are wild party girls and best friends. Their future plans do not seem to reach much higher than becoming the first women to win their campus beer pong championship.
Flash forward to the present day. Jess has become a humorless workaholic with a conservative bob cut running for state senate. She is also planning her race around her upcoming wedding to Peter (Paul W. Downs, who also co-wrote the script), a similarly uptight, but basically nice understanding guy.
Despite their plans to be friends forever, she has mostly lost touch with her old college girlfriends. Therefore, they decide to do a blow-out bachelorette weekend in Miami, crashing in the gorgeous glass house of a campaign contributor. Blair is going through a contentious divorce and needs the time away to decompress. Frankie has become a sort-of professional protestor, dressing like a hippie and fighting against injustice, even though she is hiding the fact that she has a rich father. Frankie is also still holding out hope that a long-ago bi-sexual coupling with Blair may be rekindled.
The plans are mostly made by Alice, who, despite the fact that she is working as a teacher for small children, really has not moved on from college. She still drinks way too much, lives for parties and is obsessed with getting selfies. She is also needy and obsessed with the past. Part of this arrested development stems from the fact that she needs release from caring for her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. However, her wild-girl party ways have led her friends to avoid her a bit.
One last woman is invited to the bachelorette party, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), an Australian friend of Jess who she met when she was a foreign exchange student.
The weekend is going well, all of them are letting lose, drinking too much, experimenting with coke, acting as juvenile as they can as they traverse Miami’s night life. Someone decides to order up a stripper back at their house. When Alice wildly jumps on the guy, he falls backwards and hits his head on a stone outcropping. It is an accident (mostly), but the guy bleeds to death on the floor.
Now, again, this was not planned. It just happened. If the women just left the body where it was and called the police, it may have been a little embarrassing, but it would have been involuntary manslaughter. However, the women panic. They don’t want to go to jail. This will destroy Jess’ campaign and Blair’s custody fight for her daughter. So the women try to hide the body. The problem is, the more they mess with the crime scene, the more trouble they potentially are in.
Their predicament leads to lots of sight gags as they try to dispose of the body, making him look like he is still alive as they move him from one place to another with no luck. Soon they are surrounded by other characters which cause them to panic even more – a pizza delivery guy, the kinda creepy swinger couple next door (Ty Burrell and Demi Moore), a couple of cops (Enrique Murciano and Dean Winters) and even a panicked fiancé Peter, who through a garbled cell phone call thinks Jess is about to dump him.
Wacky hijinks ensue, somewhat edgy, but like I said earlier, Rough Night does not give in to the darkness of its premise. These women may have killed a guy and been obstructing justice, but they are likeable, dammit.
It’s fun to see Johanssen, who does not do comedy all that often anymore, totally let loose in this role after way too many serious dramas. Bell also brings some serious laughs to the party, even though she is essentially playing the same role she played in 21 Jump Street and Office Christmas Party. McKinnon is funny but not given enough to do with her eccentric comedic talents, basically her character’s one attribute is a wonky Aussie accent. Grazer and Kravitz also do not have quite enough to do here, but what they do, they do well. Finally, Downs has some very funny moments as the potentially cuckolded fiancé, even though his character and reactions are extremely cartoonish.
Ironically, though Rough Night did not go for the jugular like Very Bad Things did, it is probably a funnier movie. (Though, overall, Very Bad Things is probably a better movie.) One thing is for sure, though, Rough Night has a much better shot at becoming a hit.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 16, 2017.