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Movie Review: Rough Night

Rough Night never really commits to the darkness of the premise
Aisle Seat, Rob Slack

Rough Night

Directed by Lucia Anielio

In Theatres

The advertising for Rough Night seem to be trying to sell it as some kind of hybrid of The Hangover meets Bridesmaids meets Weekend At Bernies. It ain't. What is it, then? It's kind of a gender swapped Very Bad Things, the 1998 comedy starring Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Jeremy Piven and Cameron Diaz. And where Very Bad Things went dark, so damn dark it's nearly unwatchable, Rough Night never really commits to the darkness of the premise. In Very Bad Things a prostitute is killed and bodies pile up and mayhem ensues, pushing the audience farther and farther away from any kind of sympathy or empathy with the characters. In Rough Night, a stripper is killed but most of the mayhem that ensues feels forced and never grows from anything real.

The central cast of Rough Night, Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, and Kate McKinnon aren't the problem. They bring the charm, they bring the funny, and are unpredictable. They elevate the movie, taking the little they are given to work with and push a pretty pedestrian film to something better. If anything, it's the movie that lets down the cast. Kate McKinnon steals pretty well every single scene she's in, with her odd and surreal choices. Her all-in approach to comedy, be it the verbal stuff or the physical stuff or just the way she uses her eyes, she just grabs nearly every moment of this movie and runs with it. And unlike some comedy giants she also knows when to pull back, give the other performers the room to breathe. Zoe Kravitz, whose character's traits could be written on one of those papers that are found in a fortune cookie, takes her Blair unexpected places. Jillian Bell's Alice is the least consistently written of the characters, bouncing between Melissa McCarthy-style slapstick and gross out humour and sensitive straight woman reacting to the insanity around her with insight. Even with all of that piled up against her, Ms Bell takes it all in stride and brings much more than the film deserves. What I'm getting to is that this is a movie where each and every actor involved could have just phoned it in and collected their cheques. Instead each of them brought everything to the table, creating something kind of special out of a pile of ingredients that are just kind of m'eh.

There are some genuinely funny moments in Rough Night and it might find its place on streaming services and such. It's just… this movie could have been, should have been so much better. With this group of actors, with this premise, a much better film is hiding inside of Rough Night, a truly dark comedy that bet the mortgage, that went all in. But instead it's a series of missed opportunities. I don't know if it was a script problem or if the director lacked conviction or if it was studio interference, but someone let this cast down. There are some truly funny and bizarre moments, like Demi Moore and Modern Family's Ty Burrell playing neighbours with libidos set to eleven. Or Paul W. Downs, who plays Scarlett Johansson's fiancé, going full sad astronaut with adult diapers and a case of Red Bull, playing matchmaker in a gas station parking lot. But too often the funny and bizarre and dark are balanced with the pedestrian and predictable, moments that would have played well in a more family friendly film. 

Another problem with Rough Night is how bland it looks. The staging of the scenes, the way it's shot, the way the actors are blocked, everything is so… television. And not the golden age of television we find ourselves in now. No, it feels more like those 90s sitcoms that no-one remembers, just with more penis jokes and the debauchery is on the screen instead of off camera. Very little of Rough Night looks cinematic, it rarely looks like a movie of intent and purpose. 

Is Rough Night worth your hard earned dollars? Nope. This is one of those movies that will probably play better on a television screen, with some friends and some refreshments and snacks. The lesson today is if you plan on setting out on a re-make of Very Bad Things you can't chicken out. You have to go all in. Instead, there are just too many missed opportunities. It's a film that only occasionally stops at the fireworks factory and when it does it's only for a short visit.