By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
On paper, “Rough Night” has a lot of things that can fuel a fun R-rated romp – wild parties, drugs, unexpected cameos, lead actor(s) branching out into different types of roles, crazy schemes, etc.
Unfortunately, at some point movies have to move beyond paper, and it’s at that point that this drug-fueled bachelorette party gone wrong tale gets pretty, well, rough.
Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) are college BFFs who have – to varying degrees – drifted apart in the 10 years since graduation. Jess is a state senate candidate, with a doting fiancé; Alice is the sexually-frustrated school teacher; Blair is in the midst of a messy custody battle and divorce; and Frankie is a “professional activist.”
Despite their differences, the quartet meets up for a wild bachelorette weekend in Miami. Joining them for the weekend is Jess’ friend from a semester abroad in Australia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon).
But things quickly take a nasty turn when a freak, drug-fueled accident leaves the ladies with a dead stripper on their hands. With Jess’ career on the line, Blair’s custody battle looming, and Frankie facing her third strike, they must come together to find a solution.
If the story sounds like one you’ve heard before, it’s probably because it borrows heavily from films like “Bridesmaids,” “The Hangover” and “Very Bad Things.” And, while “Rough Night” surpasses the very low bar set by the latter, it fails to even come close to the other two.
One of them problems is that the movie relies heavily on its three biggest names – Johannson, Bell and McKinnon – and none of them deliver consistently. Johannson, not known for her comedic chops, plays the party girl turned straight-laced politician in a rather understated, deadpan manner, which doesn’t really work in this kind of over-the-top comedy. The other two simply play to their “strengths” again – Bell as the loud, brash sidekick, and McKinnon doing little more than making weird faces into the camera and spouting ridiculous gibberish … only this time in an awful Australian accent.
There certainly are some laughs to be had, but the majority of the laughs come from the lesser-known supporting actors – namely Glazer, and Paul W. Downs, who plays Jess’ fiancé, Peter.
Glazer plays the system-hating activist with a ferocious hilarity that surpasses anything else from the rest of the main cast, and Downs brings this sort of pathetic desperation to Paul, who along with his buddies take part in a more subdued celebration than the ladies. Even in the brief moments that Paul and his crew is on screen, they steal the show.
Had director/co-writer Lucia Aniello and co-writer Downs gone for a true ensemble approach by giving a little more heft to Frankie, Blair and Paul and his crew, it could have made for a more interesting story. There were also fun, underutilized characters played by Demi Moore, Ty Burrell and Colton Haynes that could have added some more laughs in heftier roles.
Instead, they opted to focus on the least interesting characters and the dynamics between them, while sprinkling in some R-rated comedy clichés. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it can and often does work. But the best (or at least most memorable) of those always offer up some sort of “I can’t believe they did that” moment (think Mr. Chow’s first appearance in the “The Hangover” or the reason for the group singalong in “The Sweetest Thing”). This lacks that moment, and will likely be forgotten pretty quickly.
“Rough Night” had the cast and premise to succeed, but rather than play to its strengths and truly embrace the genre and rating, it went for formulaic success, which, ironically, I don’t think it will have much of.
★★ of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.