When was the last time we had a great studio comedy? This is the first question that popped into my head after watching Rough Night, one of the most anticipated laugh fests of the summer. In recent months, there's been a serious dearth of pure comedic entertainment- sure, there have been a few films that have made me laugh, but none that necessarily qualify as comedies. In fact, it's been so bad that you have to go all the way back to Sausage Party in August if you're looking for an A-grade studio comedy. But after the disaster of Baywatch, I was hoping that Lucia Aniello's Rough Night would break Hollywood's comedic drought. It was hyped up in many circles for being from the writers of Broad City, it has an incredible cast led by the one-two punch of Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon, and it has a darkly funny concept that seemed to have a good deal of potential. What could go wrong?
Unfortunately for all of us, Hollywood's comic losing streak continues with Rough Night, a film that feels like a major missed opportunity. It's a well made film that fails the most important comedic test- it just isn't that funny. Rough Night drags for two acts before finding a bit of a groove in its final moments, which saves it from being a total and complete misfire. Nonetheless, this is a tough movie to sit through, mainly because it weirdly feels like it's on the cusp of being funny for much of its runtime without actually succeeding at the task of making the audience laugh. Despite a talented crew, a few standout performances, and a slick production quality that feels like a throwback to 80s comedies, Rough Night never manages to be another more than another raunchy disappointment, one that never successfully pulls off its jokes or emotional hook.
In college, Jess (Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) were the closest of friends. They did everything together, and they believed that they would be best friends forever. Cut to several years later, and that isn't quite the case. They've all gone their separate ways, with Jess currently running for political office in a high-stakes race. But with her marriage to Peter (Paul W. Downs) looming, Alice decides it's time to reunite all of the girls for a big bachelorette weekend in celebration of Jess. The group of friends (along with Kate McKinnon's Pippa, Jess' Australian exchange student friend) take a trip down to Miami, and things get out of hand pretty quickly. Drinks are shared, cocaine is snorted, and the girls end up back at a swanky beachfront estate to cap of the night. Enter the night's entertainment- a male stripper. They have fun for a while, but after a horrific accident, the stripper ends up dead. And it only gets crazier from there.
If you've seen the trailer for this film, you know that's the basic concept. And like all comedies, the plot goes in some unexpected directions that end up being all kinds of insane. Rough Night is at its best when it settles into a formulaic groove, when it blends together the various plot threads and tones into something that resembles an action/comedy. Sure, things get a little more predictable in the final act and the emotional and story beats are pretty familiar, but at least something is working. Rough Night ends on a high note, which is the best that can be said for this movie. But the ride to get there is bumpy at best and excruciating at worst, a comedy with all the pieces in place that can't seem to get any momentum going.
Rough Night is certainly billed as a "dark" comedy, but it never seems to have any desire to commit to that idea. The film revels in debauchery and criminal behavior, and yet the horrible actions of the characters are excused by a few third act revelations that feel like a cop-out. Dark comedies are usually meant to say something about human nature, while also having a satirical bite that comes off as appropriately acidic. Rough Night never even comes close to touching that, operating with this weird improvisational feel for the first act before turning the profoundly stupid and/or irresponsible characters into the heroes of the story in the final moments. The jokes don't land, the film feels aimless, and it's clear that director Lucia Aniello and co-screenwriter Paul W. Downs were stuck between making a light and raunchy comedy and something much darker.
Even the cast can't do much with this material. Scarlett Johansson is one of my favorite actresses, but she doesn't have many opportunities to be funny or interesting in this film. Jess is a bland protagonist, an inconsistent character who's pretty much there to react to everything. Jillian Bell is an incredibly dependable comedic actress, having delivered spectacular turns in both The Night Before and 22 Jump Street. But just like everyone else in this film, she's wasted on a part that doesn't exactly suit her, left to flounder around in the hopes of finding something humorous or resonant. Even Kate McKinnon, the hottest comedy star of the moment, can't do much with a part that feels misguided from the start. The subplot involving Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer is amusing at times, and Paul W. Downs has a breakout supporting turn as Jess' fiance, but I can't help but feel like this talented crew was wasted on a mediocre comedy.
Does Rough Night have engaging moments? Sure, it's not a total fiasco like Baywatch or Why Him? But given the talent and credibility of everyone involved, this has to be chalked up as a bitter disappointment. When a film's strongest attribute is that the conclusion is watchable, you know that's not a good sign. Rough Night is a basic R-rated comedy that wants to be something more subversive and strange, and because of that, it takes forever to settle into any kind of rhythm. Its 101 minute runtime feels like twice that, and it can't conjure up any compelling characters or fresh emotional arcs. It's a letdown- plain and simple.
THE FINAL GRADE: C (5.8/10)
Images courtesy of Sony