REVIEW: ROUGH NIGHT

First off: I hated this movie when it was called Very Bad Things. It didn’t work with gents and it doesn’t work with ladies. Why? Tone, baby. It’s all about the tone. Trying to take a movie that is, essentially, about the accidental death of a stripper and inject it with whimsical comedy and emotional messages about friendship is doomed to failure no matter how you slice it. Here is a film that is so painfully unaware of what it wants to do and how it wants to do it that that, at times, it’s like you’re watching a mediocre improv sketch go horribly wrong. Blame the writer and director, Lucia Aniello, for getting so caught up in “girl power” that she forgot about something far more important – “story power”. Or how about “comedy power”? And, even though I think it’s worse than Very Bad Things, at least it doesn’t star Jeremy Piven.

You know this story. A group of friends (hint: this time it’s ladies) get together to celebrate a bachelorette weekend, and shit goes down. The shit here is the accidental death of a male stripper and their numerous attempts to cover it up, including a body on a jet-ski, a threesome with Ty Burrell and Demi Moore, and a Smart car malfunction. The big twist? The person we think is a stripper really isn’t. Of course, we know that the moment he steps on camera, so the surprise that comes is less of a surprise and more of a chance for the filmmaker to disrobe two super hot guys instead of one. And, don’t get me wrong – Ryan Cooper and Colton Haynes provide plenty of delicious eye candy, but don’t these guys have better uses for their guns and buns? I have no problem seeing men objectified – hell, women have been enduring it since the silent film era – but at least give them something to do other than make me drool and catch the vapors. I mean, Elizabeth Berkeley was objectified in Showgirls, but at least she got to play with a snake. Or was that Striptease? You’ve seen one mid-90’s stripper move, you’ve seen’em all.

The characters here are defined by single characteristics that motivate everything they do and say. And, unfortunately, that is all we really know about them, apart from the single story points that are shoved in for emotional tugs at all the right (wrong places). One is having custody issues, one is caring for a mother with Alzheimers. We learn nothing except the fact that these things exist, until they are exploited later in the film. Scarlett Johansson is Jess, who is running for the Senate and can’t see her friends as much anymore because she is getting married and has a life. Jillian Bell is Alice, a schoolteacher who is obsessed with her friends because her life is empty. Zoe Kravitz is Blair, the rich one who is going through a custody hearing that is never given its due. Ilana Glazer is Frankie, the lesbian activist who is given as much character depth as an episode of Punky Brewster. But, wait, could there possibly be more?

Yes. One more. Kate McKinnon is Pippa, an Australian woman who seems to have zero character development other than she’s Australian. Kate McKinnon has ruined more movies for me than she has saved, and this comes from someone who watches SNL, in large part, because of her. I have yet to see her brilliance properly translated into film. It feels like I am watching Chevy Chase or Molly Shannon get misused. At least Molly Shannon ended up finding her groove as a dramatic actress. McKinnon is still in that ‘less is more’ phase and, here, she takes you completely ‘out’ of the film on multiple occasions. Let’s forget about that accent which is as stereotypical fake Australian as you can get – but why? Why give her an accent at all? Why is it necessary? McKinnon, more than anyone else, appears to be constantly acting in a ninety minute sketch that no one else has figured out. Someone does something. Camera cuts to McKinnon. She has a goofy look on her face. Laughs ensue? Wrong. They didn’t for me.

Back to that ‘tone’ problem. One minute you’ve got a pseudo-serious situation where the girls are faced with the prospect that they’ve just killed a man, the next you’ve got Kate McKinnon full-on making out with  corpse for an entire minute, and then you get a loud, preachy, emotional argument between friends. Is it a drama? How is it a drama when McKinnon just committed necrophilia? How is it a comedy when most all of the laughs result from the many ways a corpse can be dropped on the ground? That bit gets old quick. It’s the reason Weekend at Bernie’s doesn’t hold up so good on the 1,000th viewing. It’s like they took the weakest idea and thought – “If we add some funny, talented ladies, it’ll work out.” No one is disputing the talent of those involved here – it’s tremendous. But they are deserted in a No Man’s Land of a script. When you’ve got someone driving 1,000 miles wearing an adult diaper and that is the level of comedy we’re playing it, The Hangover films start to look downright regal.

If you can’t tell, I thought Rough Night was a bit of a disaster. Like a lot of folks, I am thirsty for strong female-driven comedies. Bridesmaids feels like an eternity ago and nothing since has really found the same kind of magic. And that is what Rough Night is – a pretty lame attempt at re-creating the magic of a film that worked because it wasn’t trying so hard. Rough Night isn’t just trying hard – it’s throwing everything at the wall. But little sticks. I guess I can single out a couple folks for praise though – Ryan Cooper makes an excellent corpse, and Scarlett Johansson shows off her physical comedy chops once more. She ends up being far funnier than Jillian Bell who ends up coming across as the worst friend a person could have. One sappy Hallmark card doesn’t make your selfishness okay, hun. Rough Night fails not because of its cast or its good intentions, but because of its execution and it’s inability to pick a goddamn purpose.

Billy Ray Brewton

Billy Ray Brewton is a writer/director of stage and screen from Alabama, California, and anywhere else that will take him. Until late-2013, he called Birmingham home, where he founded Theatre Downtown, a community theatre specializing in original and contemporary works. His original musical comedy, “Skanks in a One Horse Town”, was the subject of the documentary, “Skanks”, which premiered at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival. His debut feature horror film, “Show Yourself”, world premiered at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival and is currently on the festival circuit. He is in pre-production for his second feature, “Midnights at the Sad Captain”, filming in 2017.
Billy Ray Brewton
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