5 out of 10
Scarlett Johansson as Jess
Kate McKinnon as Pippa
Jillian Bell as Alice
Ilana Glazer as Frankie
Zoë Kravitz as Blair
Paul W. Downs as Peter
Demi Moore as Lea
Ty Burrell as Pietro
Colton Haynes as Officer Scotty
Hasan Minhaj as Joe
Dean Winters as Detective Frazier
Ryan Cooper as Jay
Enrique Murciano as Detective Ruiz
Karan Soni as Raviv
Bo Burnham as Tobey
Eric Andre as Jake
Bob the Drag Queen as himself
Directed by Lucia Aniello
Feature-length comedy is really tough. One of the easiest criticisms to make of short comedy is that the skit is too long for the premise. Being consistently funny without wearing out your welcome is hard enough for nine minutes, doing it for 90 is a marathon run at a sprint pace. Which means not only stringing together several different bits (unless your starting premise is just that good), which flow intuitively from one to the other but also balancing the tone between warm inter character ribbing and mean spirited bone header-y (and everything in between). It shouldn’t be a surprise that feature comedies frequently underwhelm; it should be a miracle when one is funny at all. (And this is when they’re being made by genuinely funny people).
This is a long way of saying that even a first feature with a talented and experienced set of filmmakers behind it has an uphill battle to struggle through and Rough Night… well, it’s rough.
College roommates Jess (Johansson) and Alice (Bell) have been tight ever since their old freshman drinking days and along with a handful of other girls have maintained an unbreakable bond from those days. But they’ve also grown and changed tremendously as people and as time has gone on, the gaps have started to push on the bonds.
In an effort to hang on to what they have, they descend on Florida for State Senate candidate Jess’s bachelorette party and one last grasp at those old college days. Once the drink and drugs start flowing, judgment quickly goes out the window and before the girls know it they’re up to their armpits in dead strippers, stolen diamonds and ill-considered ideas on how to get away with it.
On the outside looking in, yeah it could be a gender-flipped Hangover and the first third of Rough Night does play into that, not least with a desire to show its main characters as gross and more than a little stupid while stopping just short of parody without delving into full-on humiliation humor.
If it sounds like a lift, it’s also a testament to how versatile that premise is, with co-writer/director Lucia Aniello (Broad City) seeming to aim more for variations on a theme than something new and inspired. There have been plenty of good comedies made which did the same thing and for a while it seems like Rough Night could be one of them, but the inertia of the gag is a hard thing to escape from.
Once the premise has worn out its welcome, Aniello and co-writer/co-star Paul Downs spend the rest of the film trying to find a new bit to pick up the pace with mixed results.
The cast is certainly game enough. Comedy is not really Johansson’s forte, but it doesn’t need to be, either; she and Kravitz are primarily foils to set off Glazer, McKinnon and especially Bell. If Rough Night is any one person’s film, it’s Bells, and she takes full advantage of the spotlight. From her night club dance fail to her stripper attack and repeated post-murder freak-outs, if there is a good joke delivered in Rough Night, there’s a pretty good bet it came from Bell.
McKinnon remains a talented comic in search of good material. In most of her feature film work to date, she has been stuck with taking not particularly funny characters on the page and trying to make them soar through sheer energy and her Australian émigré Pip is another entry in that list.
But there’s only so much propping up a film will take and it becomes pretty clear about halfway through Rough Night that it’s running out of steam and doesn’t know what to do next. That’s the point where the bachelorettes are left to their fate for an extended time to focus on Jess’s freaking out fiancé Peter (Downs), who decides to slap on some adult diapers and drive across country on a diet of red bull and meth to get an answer to Jess’s cryptic phone messages.
Peter and his wine-tasting bros are funny in small doses but they quickly expand to eat up half of the film’s screen time, suggesting the filmmakers couldn’t come up with anything more for their leading ladies to do or that the payoff for an extremely long shaggy dog joke was far funnier than it comes across on screen.
As fast as the pace may be, feature length comedy is still a marathon and Rough Night just runs out of ideas halfway through and never manages to pick itself back up again.