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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Rough Night  (2017)
2 Stars
Directed by Lucia Aniello.
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zöe Kravitz, Paul W. Downs, Ty Burrell, Demi Moore, Ryan Cooper, Enrique Murciano, Dean Winters, Colton Haynes, Devin Ratray.
2017 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 15, 2017.
A Miami bachelorette weekend suddenly goes awry when the hired male stripper is accidentally killed. If this sounds like a gender-twisting variation on Peter Berg's fearless 1998 dark comedy "Very Bad Things," that's because it is. "Rough Night," from first-time feature writer-director Lucia Aniello (TV's "Broad City") and co-writer Paul W. Downs, gets a little twisted and certainly raunchy in its own right, but it is also positioned as an altogether softer, lighter escapade. No matter how awful things get for our five put-upon protagonists, there is always the expectation that somehow all will turn out okay for them. Whether it actually does or not won't be revealed, but the getting-there lacks momentum and bite. For every funny moment, there is another waiting in the wings to fall flat or lead toward a narrative dead-end.

The bride-to-be is Jess Thayer (Scarlett Johansson), a straight-laced sort in the midst of a senatorial campaign. Putting her political work on hold for the weekend, she bids fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs) adieu and heads to Miami Beach with four old college friends—party-hungry schoolteacher Alice (Jillian Bell), directionless activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), recently separated mom Blair (Zöe Kravitz), and upbeat Aussie pal Pippa (Kate McKinnon). A choreographed dance, a few bumps of cocaine, and one visit from a gigolo hired on Craigslist later, the gals are horrified when an accident cracks opens the escort's head, instantly killing him. With their entire lives and Jess' career hanging in the balance, they ultimately decide to get rid of the body. It's a decision easier said than done.

"Rough Night" resembles a rough draft in search of that one major rewrite to punch up the dialogue, tighten its meandering midsection, and nix the truly bad ideas that should never have made it to the screen (a numbskull subplot involving Peter's adult-diapered mad dash to Florida immediately comes to mind). The characters, most of them distinguished by just a couple traits apiece, are enlivened by the actors. Scarlett Johansson (2017's "Ghost in the Shell") is the straight heroine at its center, and she plays the situation real while occasionally aiming for humor that simply isn't inspired enough on the page to take flight. She is eclipsed by the two eternal scene-stealers of the cast, also given the most colorful of the roles: an Australian-accented Kate McKinnon (2016's "Ghostbusters"), who can turn a single look or line into a five-course meal in comedy, and the frequently hilarious Jillian Bell (2016's "Office Christmas Party"), whose coke-addled Alice threatens to do another rail while going off the rails as her guilt over what she has inadvertently done hits her. As Jess and Alice's friendship is put to the test, revealing itself to be far more rocky than Alice realized, it is as close to an arc as one will find here.

Ilana Glazer (2015's "The Night Before") and Zöe Kravitz (2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road") round out the principals and have the least to do; playing ex-lovers Frankie and Blair, whose torch for each other may not have been entirely extinguished, they are mostly along for the ride. An interlude in which Blair involves herself in a threesome with their happily swinging neighbors Pietro (Ty Burrell) and Lea (Demi Moore) as a means of getting ahold of the surveillance tape that might have recorded them dumping the body in the ocean goes nowhere fast. Ty Burrell (2014's "The Skeleton Twins") and Demi Moore (2010's "The Joneses") are game but wasted portraying thankless caricatures.

"Rough Night" can be somewhat forgiven for having what the late Roger Ebert termed an "Idiot Plot," one that could be solved in a matter of minutes if only the characters were written with logic and intelligence. It is all a means to a comic end, after all, where the further the players go in disposing the corpse the more in over their heads they become. In aiming to redeem these five friends' criminal actions, Aniello and Downs devise a wildly implausible, far-too-easy resolution. Simply put, it doesn't respect its audience. "The Hangover," "Weekend at Bernie's," and "Bridesmaids" pureed in a blender, "Rough Night" should have been a hilarity-filled, albeit derivative, free-for-all. Instead, the undernourished yet excessively clunky script meanders more than zings. Already-fond memories of Leslye Headland's considerably sharper, grittier, funnier, darker 2012 picture "Bachelorette" just got a little fonder.
© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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