Rough Night (2017)
Great friends. Terrible choices.
‘Great friends. Terrible choices. No consequences.’ This should be the tagline for the intolerably tasteless Rough Night, a girl’s night out romp which sees a bunch of boozed-up, drugged-out women murder a male stripper then try to dispose of his body (to avoid prison time), their weekend of premarital debauchery going completely off the rails. It’s hard not to draw parallels between Rough Night and Peter Berg’s overlooked black comedy Very Bad Things (1998) — in which a group of five guys accidentally murder a prostitute during a bachelor party in Las Vegas, before turning on one other — the former a gender-reversal rip-off the latter. But unlike Very Bad Things — the flick essentially a foray into the deranged side of the human psyche — Rough Night plays its dark (morally shady) subject matter for laughs, the movie suggesting that involuntary manslaughter, then trying to hide a dead body, is okay, as long as the person that you’ve murdered is bad. Besides, killing somebody could lead to great things or do wonders for one’s career (apparently)!
In her second misfire this year — following the sub-par Ghost in the Shell (2017) — Scarlett Johansson plays Jess Thayer, a buttoned-up bride-to-be who’s running for State Senate, though trailing in popularity against her more promiscuous male opponent — because, dick pics win elections, right? Although burdened by the pressures of her 9 to 5 — chiefly the looming election — Jess agrees to let her long-time BFF Alice (Jillian Bell) throw her a bachelorette party. Hence, the needy, narcissistic Alice (who’s single and ready to mingle) organizes a weekend-long retreat in Miami in the hope of recapturing the glory days, where the hard-partying hellions could drink their frat-boy peers under the table, this shindig reuniting the college quarter after 10 or so years. But Alice — who’s still somewhat living in the past — soon realizes that things have more-or-less changed, despite the fact that the girls vowed to be friends forever and that their kids would grow up together; lesbian Frankie (Ilana Glazer) is now a hard-left political activist and her former flame, Blair (Zoë Kravitz), a straight-laced New Yorker, who’s secretly separated from her hubby and is currently in the midst of a rough custody battle. Much to the dismay of Alice, the bevy of babes are also joined by Jess’ free-spirited Australian ‘mate’ Pippa (Kate McKinnon) when landing in the Magic City, the dippy Aussie having befriended Jess on her semester studying abroad down under.
While the weekend shenanigans start out rather tame — dinner and some light alcoholic refreshments — the spirited high jinks soon spiral out of control after the ladies score a spot of blow (from a stranger, no less), snorting the shit out of it right away (because that’s what responsible people do); then it’s ‘shots shots shots shots shots,’ and some ‘slut drop’ dancing, the girls reprising a routine they’d learnt in college on a nightclub podium — this demeaning groove performed to none other than Khia’s ‘My Neck, My Back (Lick It).’ And that’s before the drunken dames return to their trendy ocean-side accommodation to bump ‘n’ grind against a hot male stripper they’d ordered from Craigslist. Female empowering stuff!
Calamity strikes soon after, when the perpetually horny Alice decides to pounce on the hustler, who inadvertently falls and splits his head on a nearby coffee table, the semi-naked gigolo dying on impact. Now, with the celebrations taking a seriously grim turn, the shocked and panicked women — in fear of crippling their jobs and personal lives — hatch a harebrained scheme to try and ditch the body, seeing as they’d already tampered with it before phoning the police. Thus, as a frantic night of over-the-top antics ensues, the squabbling, semi-tragic ‘sisters’ learn a thing or two about friendship, and one another, along the way — bottled-up resentments slip out and true feelings come to light — because, well, nothing brings people together like the stench of a rotting carcass.
Penned by director Lucia Aniello and co-writer Paul W. Downs (who also stars in the movie), two of the minds behind Comedy Central’s Broad City (2014) — which itself was developed from a web-series — Rough Night squanders its talented cast and crew, including star Ilana Glazer, the co-creator/ self-absorbed protagonist of said TV show. With that in mind, this female-driven disaster story is neither fresh, tactful or funny, and this coming from someone who actually enjoys female-centric films — just check out my review of Patty Jenkins’ excellent Wonder Woman (2017). Girl Power all the way! See, if filmmakers wanted to travel down this ‘warped’ route, Rough Night should have been a cautionary ‘what goes around comes around’ tale, à la Very Bad Things, the characters in Berg’s (far superior) picture paying the ultimate price for trying to bury a call girl in the Nirvana Desert, killed by a coat hanger head impalement. However, the twisted subject matter in Rough Night drives the bulk of the humor, the film trivializing violence towards sex workers. Really, there’s nothing remotely ‘comical’ — nor sharp or witty — about the slaughter of a stripper, regardless of their gender. We see Kate McKinnon’s Pippa dry hump a corpse on the sand, there’s some Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) style slapstick, with the body in question subjected to humiliation via penis-themed party accessories and a kinky leather sex sling. Shame on everyone involved. And people said Baywatch (2017) was bad — at least it was harmless.
Offensive premise aside, Rough Night is numbingly dull, proceedings brimming with lewd and crude setups (think hair-removal quips and jokes about STDs), the film desperate to be subversive and edgy but failing at each and every turn. Rather than carving its own identity, Rough Night focuses on unfunny, seen-it-all-before R-rated shtick, mimicking far better female-led features — Paul Feig’s outstanding Bridesmaids (2011), for instance — the film a cheap and nasty imitation that’s trying way too hard to cash in on the surge of ‘girls gone wild’ comedies — Bad Moms (2016), Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) and How to Be Single (2016), to a lesser degree. Needless to say, its tone is all over the shop! Furthermore, it never seems as though our protagonists are in any danger of facing real-world penalties, the storyline more concerned with gross-out absurdity over penance or atonement, these gals basically getting away with their dubious actions scot-free, the final resolution way too neat, convenient and tidy.
With that said, some of the role-swapping gags kinda-sorta work; Jess’ fiancé Peter (played by Paul W. Downs) stages a mannered wine tasting soirée, a stark contrast to the ladies’ bachelorette-party-from-hell, this amusing side-plot perhaps a comment on Millennial ‘straight men,’ who are slowly but surely edging their way into more domestic roles, positions that once belonged to their now empowered spouses. Alas, filmmakers take this giddy little titbit, aka the character of Peter, and foolishly spoil him, a slight over-the-phone hiccup with Jess (misinterpreted as cold feet) prompting him to take an all-night road-trip to Miami, clad in an exposed adult diaper — because … errr, I don’t know, he looks sillier without any pants on. Pulling a ‘sad astronaut’ (in the hope of saving his marriage), Peter pops expired prescription pills like Tic Tacs (drugs he somehow got from Russia) whilst gulping down endless cans of Red Bull, with a scene that sees the desperado attempt to prove his soberness, via some over-the-top acrobatics, hitting rock bottom, this sorry-excuse-for-a-story-thread feeling as though it were plucked from an entirely different movie.
Making matters worse, the band of bickering babes are (to a certain degree) quite unlikeable, this quintet not so easy to sympathize with. Out of the cluster, ScarJo — taking a break from her recent surge of badassery-type roles — and Zoë Kravitz, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), probably fare best. Jillian Bell, Fist Fight (2017), is woeful as pain-in-the-a-hole Alice, Jess’ green-eyed friend, the ex-Saturday Night Live scribe trying to fashion a likeable looser in the vein of Kathryn Hahn’s Carla from Bad Moms (2006), Bell missing the mark by a couple of football stadiums (at least), her ghastly screeching and childish antics just plain irritating. Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters (2016), supplies some okay moments as token Aussie girl Pippa (who’s nicknamed Kiwi), a mid-credit ballad performed by the actress-comedian an outright hoot. Her patchy accent, however, feels gimmicky and gets old, fast; maybe the always-reliable Rose Byrne was busy and filmmakers had to con another go-to funny-gal to pretend she was from the land of koalas and Vegemite.
In what shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, the film’s male players are depicted as either idiots, weirdos or criminals, or are simply used as eye-candy — shallow much? Model-turned-actor Ryan Cooper should really be commended for his act as Scotty, the stiff stripper, who’s only given one scene of dialogue then spends the rest of the picture being hurled around like a dummy, the character never treated like an actual ‘human.’ Lastly, look out for a couple of redundant cameos by an aged Demi Moore, Ghost (1990), and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, who play a couple of sexed-up swingers, Lea and Pietro respectively, these guys having little relevance to the actual story.
Although sloppily steered by director Lucia Aniello, Rough Night sports some striking neon-tinted cinematography by Sean Porter, Green Room (2015), the sleek production and steamy costumes pretty decent, too. Unfortunately, the song choices — including Gloria Estefan’s boppy ‘Conga’ and the Divinyls’ sensual ‘I Touch Myself’ — are about as musty as our lifeless playboy. Look, when all is said and done, Rough Night is a pretty rough sit-through, this depraved party-comedy serving moldy remains of higher quality films. Having to endure this one is like being force-fed a hard-alcoholic cocktail on a bad hangover.
1.5 / 5 – Poor
Reviewed by S-Littner