“Rough Night” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

“Rough Night,” the latest girls-going-wild comedy starring Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon, turned out to be not nearly as rough a night personally, as I was convinced it would be. After all, I absolutely groaned through the film’s trailer – not once, but twice. I can honestly say that I took actual notice of not laughing at all. What is truly remarkable is the fact that I have never gone into a film with such low expectations and then inexplicably wound up enjoying it. Yes, this is one of those comedies where its best scenes are indeed, not in the trailer.

Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is an aspiring candidate for State Senate (?!) and is happily engaged to the rather docile Peter (Paul W. Downs). For her last weekend as a free woman, she decides to get her college besties back together for a bachelorette party blow-out on Miami Beach. This includes close friend Alice (Jillian Bell), a sexually-frustrated pre-K teacher, businesswoman Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and street activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer). Sure, all these women have gone in vastly different directions since graduation ten years ago, but once a sister, always a sister, right? Heck, even Jess’s roommate from her semester in Australia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), is invited to this shindig, but when the girls hire a stripper for entertainment, events take an unexpected turn for the worse when the guy ends up dead, thanks to an accidental head injury caused by a voracious Alice!

It’s obvious from the start, that the script by Director Lucia Aniello (Comedy Central’s “Broad City”) and Paul W. Downs (also acting as Peter) would be plagued by misfires as well as been-there and done-that’s, but that doesn’t necessarily set the tone for the entire 101-minute running time. True, the film on its surface is a hefty retread of “Bridesmaids” with an obvious assist from “Weekend at Bernie’s,” yet I could not bring myself to hate it, predominantly in part due to the hilarious, scene-stealing performance of Downs as Jess’s fiancé. His scenes, whether amid a remarkably reserved bachelor party of his own or the unbelievable road trip he embarks upon to reach an unresponsive Jess (due to a broken phone), fared a lot better than 75 percent of the film and our core group of comedic actresses.

Not exactly known for her comedic skills, Scarlett Johansson gives a solid performance as Jess, a woman far removed from her college partying days, but salivating at the opportunity to relive them one last time. Second-billed Kate McKinnon’s characterization as Pippa the Aussie (not a Kiwi) is pleasant, but not terribly funny as I honestly expected more in the line of belly laughs from this undeniably talented comedienne. Both Ilana Glazer (a frequent collaborator with the director) and Zoë Kravitz were aptly amusing in their respective roles, however someone (hint: first-time director Lucia Aniello) needed to rein in the overdone performance by Jillian Bell, who’s quickly following in the Rebel Wilson “more is less” school of comedy. Thankfully, a couple of delightful performances that did work to this film’s advantage is that of Demi Moore and Ty Burrell as a couple of horny swingers, who just happen to be the vacationing girls’ next-door neighbors.

If you’re in the mood for a comedy with more than its share of penis jokes this weekend, then this Bud’s for you. Fortunately, the gross-out humor doesn’t define the film’s laughs. This was a fun movie, and the chemistry between these ladies works better than their individual performances, if that can be believed. Still, the number one reason to go see “Rough Night” is for the breakthrough comic performance by Paul W. Downs, which I don’t think anyone saw coming and could rightfully be considered this film’s diamond in the “rough.”
** (two-out-of-four stars)

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