Movie Review: Rough Night

What was supposed to be biggest comedy of the summer is rough on all counts

Rough Night
Directed by Lucia Aniello
With Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz, Demi Moore

Role reversal doesn't automatically make something funny. Rough Night tries to take a bachelorette party and make one of those guys-night-out-gone-wrong films, not unlike the Hangover series.

But as with the recent role-reversal version of Ghostbusters, the humor just isn't there despite a capable cast. Five women decide to travel to Miami for a big reunion party before one of them get married. Four of them were college roommates and the fifth was a friend from a semester abroad in Australia.

But they have no chemistry together. And none of them seem to be interested in the reunion except Alice (played by Jillian Bell), who organized the whole thing. She can't stop talking about things the group did a decade ago, even though everyone else has moved on with their lives. Everyone has an annoying friend like that. Nobody wants to see a movie about that person.

Most of the cast, and the audience as well, just wants her to back off and shut up as nothing she says or does is remotely funny or interesting. She has bought penis shaped sunglasses, penis shaped spaghetti and a whole bag of similar items. Nobody is impressed. Early on, it is established that she is a teacher. There are supposed to be some laughs from her yelling random things at unseen children while she talks on the phone.

The trailers for Rough Night give away a major plot point. It isn't original though. A bachelor party film from 1998 uses the same plot to better effect. Suffice to say, the party hits a big snag and doesn't go as planned. The friends are left with a sticky situation they need to resolve. The original title of the film gave the plot away, but it was changed to Rough Night before it was released.

The plot twist unfortunately puts an end to the little bit of humor there was, and the attempt at creating some dark humor out of having to solve a crisis just doesn't ignite. You have seen this all before, and it is no funnier when women do it than when men do.

The booze, drug, sex and defecation jokes seem particularly pointless given that the capable cast has an opportunity to do so much better if given the chance.

Films this amateurish usually have a cast of unknowns or people trying to jump from the small screen to the big one. The star of this mess is Scarlett Johansson, generally regarded as one of Hollywood's top actresses. She needs to talk to her agent.

Johansson plays Jess, who is now running for a minor political office. She, of course, can't risk any scandals so going out of town on planned wild binge drinking party doesn't seem very clever from the get go.

The other two roommates are Blair (Zoë Kravitz), who is a high-end real estate agent facing marriage trouble, and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), who has stuck to her radical ways as a protest organizer. Their on-again off-again relationship actually is the only thing that feels real in the whole film. A comedic drama based on those two alone, with their opposite world views but clear attraction, would have been a better film.

The final friend on the party is Pippa (Kate McKinnon), doing a rather pedestrian Australian accent and trying to milk culture clash jokes while making allegedly comedic facial expressions. A subplot is dedicated to Alice, who has known Jess longer, making a point that Pippa isn't really welcome. Pippa explains that Kiwi refers to people from New Zealand and not Australia, but Alice keeps on with the Kiwi jokes. The rivalry seems more petty than funny.

Demi Moore turns up very briefly as swinging neighbor, but not long enough to make any impression. Some of the minor male characters such as Paul W. Downs playing Jess's fiance Peter actually have the funniest moments in the film, playing with inverted versions of male stereotypes.

The tragedy of the film is that it was directed and co-written by a woman, Lucia Aniello, and was the first R-rated comedy from a woman director in almost 20 years. Half Baked, directed by Tamra Davis, came out in 1998. It made a slight profit but was not a huge hit.

There has been a push to have more films made by female directors and tailored for a female audience. Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, is currently a huge hit. Rough Night was also projected to score high, in the same territory as the 2009 film The Hangover, which was just short of $500 million at the box office in the year it came out.

The derivative and insensitive mess called Rough Night does nothing to further the cause of gender equality behind the camera. Hopefully, though, it won't take another 20 years for a female director to get a chance at an adult comedy.

More female voices are needed on the screen, but first they need to have something to say and this film wasn't it.

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