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Review: Rough Night (2017)

Rough Night (2017)

Directed by: Lucia Aniello

Premise: A group of college friends reunite in Miami for a bachelorette party. The women enjoy a night of drugs, drinks, and dancing but things go sideways when a male stripper is accidentally killed. The women panic as they try to figure out what to do.

What Works: Rough Night has a talented cast and they do what they can with the material. The movie is led by Scarlett Johansson as the bachelorette. Johansson hasn’t done much comedy; a lot of her characters tend to be dramatic and reserved. Johansson is cast as the straight woman in Rough Night, often reacting to the wackiness of the other players and clarifying the stakes for the audience, and she does that well. Jillian Bell plays the bachelorette’s best friend from college who has never gotten past their twenties and in many respects Bell’s character is the antagonist of the story. She is also cast to type based on her roles in 22 Jump Street and Fist Fight; in those films Bell played against her beatific look as an irresponsible train wreck and she’s called to do the same thing in Rough Night. The cast also includes Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer as former lovers who have taken different life routes and their banter has some sexual tension. The central cast is rounded out by Kate McKinnon as an Australian friend of the bachelorette and as usual McKinnon creates a unique character and executes a lot of physical comedy. Altogether, this is a talented cast and it’s too bad the movie doesn’t put them to better use.

What Doesn’t: Viewers who are familiar with “one crazy night” comedies will find the premise of Rough Night familiar. In fact, the first portion of the movie rips off Peter Berg’s 1998 comedy Very Bad Things almost verbatim but with the gender of the cast flipped. Just as in Very Bad Things, a group of old friends gather for a pre-wedding bash of intoxicants and debauchery and accidentally kill a sex worker. The plot of Rough Night deviates from Very Bad Things after the accident but the rest of the movie is equally unimaginative. Where the 1998 film played to its dark premise with an increasingly nasty and sardonic comedy of errors, the filmmakers of Rough Night only flirt with edginess. They never embrace it. The tone of the movie is all over the place. At times, Rough Night plays as a raunchy comedy but at other moments this picture turns into a maudlin story of female friendship. Each element of the movie cancels out the effect of the other and Rough Night jerks the audience around. The tone also suffers from the irregular plotting and pacing. Rough Night has no momentum. Unlike The Hangover, which successfully pressured its characters into retracing their steps and finding their friend before his nuptials, there is nothing compelling the women to act and the story has no sense of escalating stakes. The movie especially suffers from a stupid subplot in which the groom-to-be mistakes a message about the killing for a confession of infidelity and resorts to traveling halfway across the country in a single night to work out his relationship. The subplot is just filler and it’s not funny. That’s about the extent of Rough Night’s creativity and the best the filmmakers can do is to rip off Weekend at Bernie’s. The end of Rough Night is especially a problem. When it was released in 1998, Very Bad Things was criticized for being violent and mean-spirited. But whatever that movie’s faults, Very Bad Things at least followed through on its cynical convictions. The filmmakers of Rough Night contort their movie into a happy ending that is disingenuous and out of place with the rest of the picture. In its own way, Rough Night is actually far more problematic than Very Bad Things or even The Hangover and its sequels in the way it suggests—with no sense of irony—that stupidity has no consequences.

Bottom Line: Rough Night wastes a talented set of actors on a story that is derivative and lazy. The movie tries to be too many different things and it ends up doing none of them well at all.

Episode: #655 (July 9, 2017)