Rough Night loses direction on gender gags

Zoë Kravitz, Jillian Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon star in Rough Night, which is neither a re-hashing of Bridesmaids nor the bawdy crowd pleaser it aspires to be. Courtesy Sony Pictures Zoë Kravitz, Jillian Bell, Scarlett Johansson, Ilana Glazer and Kate McKinnon star in Rough Night, which is neither a re-hashing of Bridesmaids nor the bawdy crowd pleaser it aspires to be. Courtesy Sony Pictures

The story of Rough Night centers around a disastrous bachelorette weekend organized by an old friend who doesn’t know the difference between entertaining someone and monopolizing her time—which is a distinction the movie itself also has difficulty making.

Featuring a terrific cast with great chemistry, a mix of A-listers and promising up-and-comers, and written and directed by a duo best known for their work on the smash hit “Broad City,” Rough Night obviously wants you to enjoy its many individual components so much, it never pays attention to whether they all work together.

Rough Night
R, 101 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

Rough Night follows a group that gathers in Miami to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Jess (Scarlett Johansson) to Peter (Paul W. Downs, who also co-wrote the movie). Four of the five were inseparable pals in college: aspiring politician Jess, activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), wealthy Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Alice (Jillian Bell), who obsessively planned the getaway down to the most ludicrous detail. Jess’ Australian friend Pippa (Kate McKinnon) joins them, to the chagrin of possessive Alice. The friends decide to order a male stripper for Jess, who initially enjoys the attention but steps aside when he begins acting strange and aggressive in a very un-stripperlike manner. Alice, who cannot slow down for a moment, then leaps onto the chair where he is sitting, smashing his head against the fireplace and killing him instantly. From there, the group panics, and ideas for a cover-up begin almost immediately. The chaos that ensues challenges the bond between the friends that had gone unquestioned for 10 years.

To its benefit, Rough Night is not Very Bad Things, Weekend At Bernie’s, Bridesmaids or any of the movies that the plot might make you recall. Director and co-writer Lucia Aniello has a very clear vision of the movie’s comedic core, depicting the buildup to making a horrible decision and how it managed to seem almost reasonable at the time. Waiting to call the police sounds logical, moving the body away from the window seems like a good move, and by the time the women resolve to dump the corpse in the ocean, it almost seems like the most obvious thing in the world.

Rough Night loses itself when it can’t decide between madcap antics or character interaction, and as a result both suffer. At any given moment, it’s exclusively one or the other, and the over-the-top actions are much less funny when they don’t feel rooted in what we believe that person would do. Not that Rough Night—or any movie, for that matter—needs to be completely believable, but if we’re supposed to laugh at the absurdity of what’s happening on the screen, we need to understand the circuitous logic of the person doing it. You can do anything in a movie, as long as it’s motivated in some way. Very little in Rough Night is, and outrageous gags that were intended to be laugh-out-loud rarely rise above a chuckle, if that.

While all this is happening, Peter has been having what he perceives as a wild guys’ weekend at a wine tasting with his groomsmen. When a perplexing phone call from Jess makes him think the wedding may be off, he and his friends (including Bo Burnham, Eric Andre and Hasan Minhaj) concoct an absurd plan to reach her by pulling a “sad astronaut,” a reference to Lisa Nowak’s supposed nonstop drive while wearing adult diapers. After an inspiring speech, Peter hits the road, aided by Red Bull and expired Russian amphetamines. It’s a sideplot that mirrors Jess’ experience, and the specific idea is just as preposterous, but the comedy connects because it is constantly moving in one direction with no detours. These guys really are that boring; watching them arrive where they do, so calmly and reasonably, is a lot of fun because the characters make collective sense.

We know nothing about the main group of women except for one attribute each, and that they were friends in college. When everything stops so Frankie can make an activist joke or Pippa can perform whatever miscellaneous attribute that is unfairly foisted on such an unfocused role for such a talented performer, it just deadens the gag.

Rough Night is not a terrible movie; it is made by people who have been excellent in other mediums, and it stars a lot of people we ought to be rooting for who deliver good performances when they are able. But a little bit of focus goes a long way, and that would have made Rough Night the bawdy crowd-pleaser it clearly aspires to be but unfortunately is not.


Playing this week

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

47 Meters Down, All Eyez On Me, The Book of Henry, Cars 3,  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Megan Leavey, The Mummy, Paris Can Wait, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Wonder Woman

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000  

All Eyez On Me, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, Cars 3, David Lynch: The Art Life, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, It Comes at Night, Megan Leavey, The Mummy, My Cousin Rachel, Raising Bertie, Wonder Woman

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