My problem with Rough Night is not just its utter lack of originality — my problem is that Rough Night never fully embraces its own ridiculousness. In a world unduly replete with adults-behaving-badly raunch-coms, I don’t expect a tepid mash-up of The Hangover and Weekend at Bernie’s to represent a great artistic achievement, but it’s going to have to get more creative than simply casting fantastic female leads in order to stand out — and this is a film that pulls punches when it should be swinging for the fences, if you’ll excuse the mixed sports metaphors. Rough Night lacks the courage of its convictions, which is particularly disappointing given the level of talent involved.
As far as comedic setups go, it doesn’t get much more rote than Rough. Scarlett Johansson plays an aspiring politician whose impending nuptials necessitate a debaucherous girls’ weekend in Miami, because … movies. Things get complicated when a coke-fueled stripper visit turns deadly. Don’t get too hung up on the story logic, it’s just an excuse to see some top-notch comediennes do their thing — and they do it very well. But the script lacks a solid protagonist, and the contrived plot twists are largely unsupported by a commensurate level of comedy, leading to an uneven affair that falls short of the mark set by predecessors such as Bridesmaids or even Bad Moms.
Helmed and co-written by Broad City director Lucia Aniello, Rough Night feels like a Comedy Central pilot stretched to feature length, complete with a host of small-screen comedy talent. And while high-end TV funny people like Jillian Bell, Kate McKinnon, Ty Burrell and Eric Andre all bring their A-game, as do Broad City co-conspirators Ilana Glazer and Paul W. Downs, nothing here lives up to the cast’s potential. Downs, who co-wrote Rough Night, gives himself some particularly inspired and truly bizarre scenes (such as playing cupid between a lonely meth-dealing trucker and a minivan-driving drug-and-penis-seeker, all while wearing a diaper), but such flashes of demented brilliance are few and far between.
What becomes increasingly evident as the Rough get rougher is that this film has been toned down for mass consumption — a strategy that, if its underperformance at the box office can be taken as any indication, backfired spectacularly. It’s hard to know exactly where to lay blame, other than to say that everyone involved was capable of far more. Broad City devotees will find a pale shadow of that show’s sardonic streak present here, but dishearteningly defanged. In aiming for the middle of the bell-curve, Rough Night missed its chance to establish itself with the outliers, where it might well have thrived. It’s not offensively bad, but I might have liked it more if it had been. R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images. Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.