A film review by Craig J. Koban September 13, 2017

ROUGH NIGHT j
½

2017, R, 101 mins.

 

Scarlett Johansson as Jess  /  Zoë Kravitz as Blair  /  Kate McKinnon as Pippa  /  Ilana Glazer as Frankie  /  Jillian Bell as Alice  /  Paul W. Downs as Peter  /  Demi Moore as Lea  /  Ty Burrell as Pietro  /  Dean Winters as Detective Frazier  /  Enrique Murciano as Detective Ruiz  /  Colton Haynes as Officer Scotty  /  Ryan Cooper as Jay  /  Karan Soni as Raviv  /  Bo Burnham as Tobey  /  Eric André as Jake  /  Madison Arnold as Morty

Directed by Lucia Aniello  /  Written by Aniello and Paul W. Downs

 

 

 

ROUGH NIGHT is yet another hard R-rated party comedy in an awfully long and incredibly disposable line of them that thinks it's a hell of a lot more hilarious and novel than it actually is.  

Outside of this film featuring an all female lead cast and being directed by a woman (Lucia Aniello, making her feature film debut), there's very little if any creative ambition on display here, which is abundantly evident within its first 30 minutes.  Cherry picking elements from other foul mouthed and raunchy films like VERY BAD THINGS, WEEKEND AT BERNIES, and THE HANGOVER series, Aniello squanders the relative good will of her talented cast on stale and left over material that rarely generates serious momentum and, most damningly, very little if any sustainable laughs.   

The mostly paint-by-numbers script concerns Jess (an awkwardly out of her element Scarlett Johansson), a thirtysomething Senate candidate that's so busy trying to secure and win vital votes that she barely has time to spend with her fiancé (Paul W. Down, also co-writer here).  With her nuptials just on the horizon, Jess is looking to engage in one last night of fun as a single lady, which leads to her old college roommate and friend Alice (Jillian Bell) insisting that she throw her BFF a bachelorette party to end all bachelorette parties.  Cruising down to Miami with her entourage of besties - including Alice, Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Blair (Zoe Kravitz) - Jess' mission is to engage in a night of all out debauchery that she hasn't had since her dorm room days.  Now, why a career minded woman like her would want to risk her Senate race by appearing like a wild and free spirited party animal in public is just one of many odd oversights that ROUGH NIGHT makes in the scripting and logic department. 

 

 

As Jess and the gang make it to Miami she's reunited with her Australian pal Pippa (Kate McKinnon), after which time they all partake in an exceedingly wild night of drinking, dancing, and impromptu cocaine snorting.  When they all arrive back and their ultra posh beachside condo rental a male stripper appears at their door step to provide some entertainment, but things get out of control when one of the women accidentally kills him by jumping into his lap and causing him fall backwards and split his cranium open.  Emotionally distraught, the ladies pathetically try to take stock of their situation to ensure that the dead body doesn't make it on the eleven o'clock news.  Fate steps in rather horribly when they all discover that the man they accidentally murdered might not actually be the real hired stripper.  Complicating things is Jess' inordinately clingy fiancé, who starts fearing the worst with her erratic behavior on the phone. 

ROUGH NIGHT never seems to get much innovative mileage out of its macabre premise, mostly because, as already mentioned, it has a decidedly been there, done that flavor (Peter Berg's VERY BAD THINGS ostensibly had the very same premise of a bunch of hedonistic partiers that accidentally kill a paid prostitute).  The main problem with ROUGH NIGHT is that it's far too reticent minded to really explore the darker aspects of the women's fate and instead offers up ample amounts of would-be uproarious slapstick comedy with the corpse in question.  This also leads to the film's extremely odd tonal shifts, with Aniello segueing between low brow bodily fluid pratfalls and farcical gags and then to serious character drama...and then this perplexing cycle repeats itself.  ROUGH NIGHT makes for a frankly bizarre viewing experience because it seems to have a real personality disorder. 

And it's not that this cast isn't winning and/or capable enough of bringing the funny here, but they're mournfully saddled with stock character types instead of fully fleshed out and authentically rendered human beings.  Jess is the pragmatic and responsible leader of the group; Alice is the emotionally unstable attention seeking hound; Pippa is the eccentric and bumbling Aussie; Frankie is the uncompromising social activist; and Blair is the headstrong businesswoman that once had a romantic fling with Frankie.  Because a majority of ROUGH NIGHT is played as a broad and off the rails farce, none of these women become compelling or relatable entities in this story that's worthy of our understanding and empathy.  Aniello wants her film to be unrelentingly filthy minded and a sobering character study as well, and it fumbles the ball in both respects. 

Since the writing is on woeful autopilot and nearly every single comedy cliché is utilized here to frustrating effect, the actors are left to desperately try as they may to make the material work, with intermittent levels of success.  Scarlett Johansson has proven in the past that she can play comedy rather well (look at last year's HAIL CAESAR!), but here her timing and performance discipline seems off.  Jillian Bell facilitates the obligatory need for her character to be belligerently coarse while throwing common sense and discretion away, but she's become so bloody typecast in playing these same type of characters over and over again that they're becoming hopelessly interchangeable with every new film she appears in.  And Kate McKinnon takes her camera mugging shtick to whole new distracting levels by employing a thick Aussie accent.  Now, accents aren't inherently funny and only serve to show the comedic desperation that pollutes this film. 

There are a few good laughs sprinkled throughout ROUGH NIGHT, some involving a neighborhood pair (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell) that are a couple of sex starved swingers that display an unhealthy predilection towards getting one of Jess' friends in the sack for a three way.  One of the central ironies of ROUGH NIGHT is that it's a comedy directed by a woman and featuring a female cast that delegates the best laughs for its male supporting stars.  The most clever moments on display here involves Aniello cross cutting between Jess and her friends burning the midnight oil at Miami nightclubs getting progressively more high and intoxicated by the minute with moments featuring her fiancé having a hilariously mellow and calm night at home testing wine with his sensitive and emasculated pals.  The fiancé then commits himself to a remarkably bizarre all nighter car trip to meet back up with Jess - after he believes that she's broken up with him on the phone - that involves a lot of Red Bull drinking and shopping for adult diapers (infer what you will with the latter). 

Perhaps the most revealing aspect about ROUGH NIGHT is that it's proof positive that a female driven comedy can be just as unoriginal and lacking in genuine inspiration as any similar male driven one.  Gender swapping these types of comedies isn't particularly liberating for the genre, especially when the laughs are scattershot and the character dynamics are paper thin.  Too much of ROUGH NIGHT feels like a lazy assembly line studio project that fails to segregate itself from an overly crowded pack.  Yes, women can play things as disgustingly puerile in these types of party comedies as their male counterparts, but that doesn't mean that they should stick to lame and hackneyed status quo formulas to appease a broad comedy base.  ROUGH NIGHT is pretty creatively bankrupt regardless of cast and crew makeup and, most contemptuously, it simply didn't make me laugh.  This female cast deserves better and audiences members - both of the male and female variety - also deserve to not have their money wasted by seeing this.   

 

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