ROUGH NIGHT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Lucia Aniello

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Grazer, Zoe Kravitz, Paul W Downs, Ty Burrell, Demi Moore, Dean Winters, Enrique Murciano, Colton Haynes, Patrick Carlyle, Eric Andre, Bo Burnham, Ryan Cooper.

A few best women? Fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a bumpy night?

Image result for rough night movie images

The premise behind this bland R-rated female centric comedy is like Peter Berg’s 1998 black comedy Very Bad Things (in which a prostitute is accidentally killed during a bachelor party and things turn nasty). But here the idea is crossed with elements of the gross out raunchy humour that has shaped films like Bridesmaids, The Hangover trilogy, the Aussie comedy A Few Best Men, with an inconvenient dead body that will remind audiences of the 80s comedy Weekend At Bernies.

Jess Thayer (Scarlett Johansson) is an aspiring politician who has always had her mind set on civic duty. She is constantly worried about her image. She is engaged to her fiancé, the rather conservative, sweet natured but dull Peter (Paul W Downs). In the middle of her election campaign she heads off to Florida for a bridal party with her best friends from her college years. This is a something reunion for them all, as their lives in the ten years since college have taken them on different paths. But the weekend is quickly going to go pear shaped.

The party has been arranged by the possessive and needy Alice (Jillian Bell, from Fist Fight, etc), Jess’s best friend from their college days, the former party animal who is now a grade school teacher but still living largely in the past. Along for the party are Pippa (Kate McKinnon, who was one of the best things about the recent female remake of the classic 80s comedy Ghostbusters), an Australian Jess befriended while studying political science down under. Alice is jealous of Pippa’s presence and feels that her position of Jess’ best friend has been usurped. The pair immediately clash and their relationship is characterised by tension, bitterness and bitchiness.

Also making up this group is Frankie (Ilana Glazer), a free-spirited but out of work and sexually ambiguous professional political activist, and the straight-laced and rich Blair (Zoe Kravitz, daughter of singer Lenny), who is in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her ex-husband.

The weekend starts off with lots of partying at nightclubs, snorting plenty of coke and consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Then they hire a stripper off Craigslist for a bit of salacious entertainment. But an accident sees the stripper dead on the lounge room floor. They quickly panic. But instead of calling the police, the five women agree to cover up their crime and dispose of the body. After all, they reason, if there is no body there is no crime. But disposing of the body exposes many of the cracks in their relationships, with simmering resentments, old slights and tensions resurfacing.

And their efforts to conceal the body are interrupted by Pietro and Lea, the slightly creepy next-door neighbours, a pair of swingers (played by Ty Burrell and Demi Moore, who looks great for her age). And after a communication breakdown with Jess following a panicked phone call, Peter decides to drive all night to Florida, sustained by lots of energy drinks, in an effort to win her back. His road trip seems like it belongs in another movie altogether.

Rough Night is the debut feature from the team of Paul W Downs and Lucia Aniello, both of whom hail from a background in television comedy having worked on series like Broad City, etc. This is Downs’ first feature film script, and it follows a fairly formulaic narrative structure and explores how one bad decision can lead to others. But, like Bridesmaids on which it is modelled, this is a film that also looks at the dynamics of female friendship, especially when it is tested and put under pressure through unusual circumstances. Likewise, this is Aniello’s debut feature film, and she is the first female director to helm a mainstream raunchy comedy in almost two decades. Although she keeps things moving along there is a lack of genuine laugh out loud moments here. The pacing is a little uneven throughout its 101 minutes, and many of the gags fall flat. The film is tonally uneven, mixing broader slapstick humour with some darker comedy.

There is nothing particularly original or new to see here, but Rough Night is mildly diverting and is certainly much better than shockers like Dirty Grandpa and CHIPS. However, none of the characters here are particularly well drawn or developed, and for the most part they are all a selfish, self-centred and unlikeable lot that makes it hard for us to sympathise with them.

The filmmakers have assembled a fine ensemble to flesh out the characters and they share some wonderful chemistry. Johansson has recently carved a niche for herself as an action heroine with her work in the Marvel Avengers universe and films like the sci-fi themes Lucy and Ghost In The Shell. Here she makes a rare foray into comedy, and while her performance is fine she never quite seems comfortable with some of the raunchy elements. McKinnon delivers another off the wall, scene stealing performance; she has the bulk of the physical comedy and pratfalls and brings some much-needed energy and an unpredictable quality to the material. Bell is perfectly cast as the obnoxious, overbearing, immature and grating Alice who is still living in the past and she delivers the bulk of the sexual innuendo and crude jokes.

And stick around after the final credits for a couple of scenes, one of which contains an important revelation about a key plot device.

★★☆

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