Taking its cue from a little remembered 1998 black comedy, Very Bad Things, where a stripper is accidentally killed at a bachelor party, the new ‘R’ rated comedy Rough Night covers the same ground, but with role reversals: the party is for the bride, and the stripper is male.
Four women reunite for a wild bachelorette weekend in Florida, celebrating the on-coming wedding of soon-to-be bride, Jess (Scarlett Johansson). Three of those friends are from college, the fourth is an oddball buddy from Jess’s Australian visit, and all five are ready to drink, dance, score some coke, and get as wild as they can. At least, that’s the idea. But when a stripper turns up at their rented Miami beach house, and a too-horny-for-her-own-good Alice (Jillian Bell) jumps his bones, the guy bangs his head on the corner of a fireplace slab and hits the floor.
“Does he need CPR?” asks one of the women as they peer over his lifeless body. “I’ll look it up on You Tube,” states the eager Aussie, Pippa (Kate McKinnon). But the pool of blood spilling from the back of his head tells them what they need to know: Alice has killed the stripper.
Naturally, the girls in their drunken and somewhat coked up state, panic and make all the wrong decisions. First, they move the body and hide it in a closet, then one of the women, Blair (Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny) calls the family lawyer (Peter Francis James) and asks him what to do. He advises the next best thing. “As I told Rob Lowe, if there’s no body, there’s no case.” So, that’s what they attempt; to hide the body. But, naturally, the harder they try, the worse things get, and as the night continues, and the more desperate the situation becomes, events naturally spiral way out of control.
Writer/director Lucia Aniello begins Rough Night with an okay premise (even if the Peter Berg written and directed Very Bad Things springs to mind). Plus, that first act of a girls-night-out as we get to know the individual, off-kilter character traits of each friend shows promise. But it soon falls apart once the situation is established, particularly when the death of the stripper and the women’s reaction to it develops into something more alarming than funny. It’s not so much that the moment is a surprise – most will be waiting for it to happen; it’s the film’s major marketing selling plot point – it’s that it comes across so genuinely serious. There’s an adjustment required, and it becomes hard to laugh once the film gets back into the rhythm of comedy. It also doesn’t help that Alice herself has already established herself as the annoying one.
Jillian Bell’s Alice is that clingy, foul-mouthed, best-friend. She’s the one responsible for reuniting everyone for the Miami celebration, though as Jess will later point out in a moment of anger, the whole weekend was really for Alice to party in a desperate attempt to relive college days. The woman is filling the void of an otherwise empty life. “We’re not in college anymore,” Jess will tell her. “And things do change.” Alice is also jealous of Jess’s Australian buddy, Pippa, purposely calling her a Kiwi, interrupting any conversation Pippa might begin with Jess, and even attempting to unbuckle the Aussie’s seatbelt in the car as it speeds through Miami. Seriously, was she actually trying to kill the woman? Plus, let’s not forget; Alice is the one who created the mess. Why Jess has remained friends with such an overbearing annoyance is the film’s biggest mystery. The answer, of course, is probably because Alice won’t let go. There’s a poignant moment later when, through a private greetings card written to Jess, Alice’s feelings are spelled out, but it comes too late; long before that scene arrives you’ve already had enough of her.
As with many raunchy, ‘R’ rated comedies of late, the dialog is not half as funny as it should be, substituting crassness and f-bombs for wit. “I can’t go to jail,” insists Alice. “I couldn’t even get through the first episode of Orange is the New Black.” Funny, perhaps, as a TV sitcom punchline, but not that clever in a film; unless, of course, your sense of what’s funny was raised on TV and you can no longer tell the difference.
The film’s only strength is its cast. Llana Glazer as lesbian activist Frankie, along with Zoe Kravitz, Jillian Bell (who despite her annoying character, plays her convincingly well) and Kate McKinnon are all talented women, particularly McKinnon who, like her TV SNL characters, never gives less than a hundred percent, and then some. Every role she plays comes across as certifiably nuts; a crazy woman somehow existing in the real world. “Singer/songwriter is the dream,” she introduces herself. “Party clown is the reality.”
Paul W. Downs plays bridegroom Peter, whose bachelor party is a sedate wine-tasting evening with friends. Fearing that Jess has dumped him after a buddy states, “Dude, you’re a six and she’s a twenty,” he races down to Florida popping pills and drinking Red Bull to keep awake while wearing man-diapers in order to make time and not have to stop for bathroom breaks along the way. Both the wine-tasting and the race for time sound funny in the telling, but are less so on screen.
There’s also an uncomfortably odd appearance from Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as the unabashedly swinging neighbors whose every piece of dialog is inspired from the groin. When Moore first meets the girls and spies Kravitz, she’s immediately attracted. “She’s delicious,” states Moore. “I want that.”
Then there’s the film’s A-lister, Scarlett Johansson as Jess, the college grad now with the sensible haircut, running for state senate. Just like her appearances as an occasional guest host on SNL, she comes across as a good sport, pitching in with all the mayhem even if it never quite clicks. Watching her makes you wish the film was better.
Historically, the gallows humor of black comedy can be the best, but it needs real wit in addition to several off-beat situations to work. As much as you want to enjoy it, Rough Night takes the easier route. It only has the initial situation, Johansson, and the four supporting talents going for it, and that’s not enough. Both the crass dialog and that one really annoying character are not helping.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 101 Minutes Overall rating: 4 (out of 10)