Friday, June 16, 2017

'Rough Night' Review: Eye-Rolling Stupidity Isn't All That Funny


Rating: 
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoe Kravitz
Director: Lucia Aniello
Screenplay: Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs
Music by: Dominic Lewis
Cinematographer: Sean Porter
Editor: Craig Alpert
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Genre: Comedy
Rated: 14A (Canada)/R (US) - Crude sexual content, coarse language, substance abuse, brief bloody images
Release Date: June 16, 2017
Run Time: 101 minutes

Rough Night is that age old story about how long-time friends patch up long simmering issues and strengthen their bond after they accidentally kill a stripper. We've all been there and there is no disputing the healing power that come from trying to hide a chiseled corpse after an awry lap dance. Rough Night also breeds familiarity by borrowing heavy from beloved buddy comedies like The Hangover and Bridesmaids, and even from much less loved (and not very good) flicks like Weekend at Bernie's and Very Bad Things.

The reason The Hangover or Bridesmaids were successes (and very good movies) was that even though the characters do very ludicrous things, they are still relatable and there are crucial scenes that let us connect. Rough Night's group of ladies are the type of characters who can are defined by a maximum of three words, Scarlett Johansson's Jess is an engaged politician,  Jillian Bell's Alice is a needy teacher, Ilana Glazer's Frankie is a lesbian activist, Zoe Kravitz's Blair is a divorced businesswoman, and Kate McKinnon's Pippa is Australian.

Maybe I am not entirely being fair, because another layer of their character's personalities is they're all idiots and incredibly unlikable. Maybe we are supposed to root for them, because they aren't as detestable as the supporting characters like the sex-obsessed neighbours in a very forced performance by Ty Burrell and Demi Moore or the neurotic, wimpy fiancé who drives to Miami wearing adult diapers while hopped up on medication because he is panicking his future bride is calling off the wedding.

What is supposed to be relatable about a career-obsessed campaigning to be Senator who is easily peer pressured into doing mounds of cocaine? Of course, Director Lucia Aniello and co-writer Paul W. Downs (who also plays the wimpy fiancé) need them coked out of their minds so they have a reason to not call the cops when they accidentally kill the stripper. You need the dead stripper, because that is where the 'hilarity' ensues as they stuff the body on a "sex swing", or drive down the street with the penis sunglasses wearing corpse sticks out the sunroof, or Blair agrees to a three way with those crazy neighbours to get a security tape that incriminates them. The movie progresses with the characters making broader and stupider decisions that leave you wondering how they held on to respectable jobs or even made it to their 30s.

The picture suffers from the Adam Sandler syndrome, where the filmmakers are unaware that their main characters are mentally ill and need serious medical help. Jess has a problem of being drawn to very clingy and obsessive individuals that she needs to work out with a psychiatrists. Alice is stalkerish in her protection and hovering over Jess. Frankie seems to be an addict and fugitive, and everyone is crazy for not thinking that is an issue worth addressing.

All of them think that the best time to deal with decade long-simmering relationship issues is right after committing unintended manslaughter. These aren't real people, but rather pawns constructed for gags or attempts at emotional catharsis. The confrontations between friends are supposed to pack the emotion and heart, but it ends up being the eye-rolling sentimentality that gets tacked on to these raunchy comedies in an attempt to override the cynicism that drives most of the narrative.

Then there is the supposed action-climax that is designed to be the redemptive moment for the protagonists. It is actually the movie losing its guts and trying to convince use these fools are actually heroes.  It is hard to care when most of the movie you're rooting for them to get locked away for life.

When it isn't resorting to making the characters look like morons or patching together scenes from better comedies, there are glimmers of what should have been a very funny movie. McKinnon has a bizarre and captivating charisma with some bizarre facials that add personality to her character and several funny improve-like asides about American or Australian culture. Bell and Johansson have a playful chemistry despite working against a stifling script. The movie is at its best when the women are able to play off each other rather than act out contrived gags. These are funny and talented people, but the current standard raunchy comedy formula suffocates most of the laughs.

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