By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)

 

Continuing to prove that Hollywood comedy is going through its lowest ebb in many, many years, Rough Night is certainly aptly titled, as any movie goer shelling out money in the hope of enjoying 100 minutes of solid, well-crafted laughs will be bitterly disappointed.

Beginning in 2006, we are introduced to our main characters, who are partying hard at college, beating the frat guys at a game of beer pong, in a scene that may or may not be referencing Karen Allen’s independent stamina in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The group is made up of Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), who all promise each other to stay friends forever.

Cut to ten years later, and Jess is now a straight-laced, law-abiding citizen who is running for local office. Up against a sexting, Anthony Weiner-style opponent, Jess is still behind in the polls, as her stiff demeanour is turning off potential voters (her campaign video persona is clumsily moulded on Hilary Clinton), even though she actually cares about what happens in her district.

Engaged to Peter (Paul W. Downs, who also co-wrote the screenplay), Jess seems to be living the perfect life, and she feels that joy will continue when she meets up with her old college friends, who have organised a hen’s night in Miami. The trip has been overseen by Alice, who hasn’t seen Jess in three years, and wants to make sure this is a weekend she will never forget. Joining the group is Pippa (Kate McKinnon), an Australian who has become dear friends with Jess over Skype. Staying at a luxury beach house lent to the group by one of Jess’s work friends, complete with horny neighbours Pietra and Lea (Ty Burrell and Demi Moore), who are still living the key-party lifestyle of the 1970’s, the booze and drug-filled celebration will become a disaster of epic, fatal proportions.

Rough Night never works from the very beginning, going for the throat with shrill, overly familiar toilet humour, informing audiences that they are going to get the same kind of low-brow, juvenile hijinks that has bedevilled American comedies for well over a decade now. Gone is any semblance of character foundation, and more surprisingly, likability, with every person a complete turn-off, written as nothing more than basic stereotypes, mechanically created to keep the formulaic plot moving forward. How is one supposed to laugh along with this group when all you want to do is get as far away from them as possible? It makes a 101 minute running time feel twice as long.

The cast can do absolutely nothing with such terrible material. Johansson displays little comic flair, quite an extraordinary achievement when you remember how terrific she was in Ghost World. Coming hot on the heels of Ghost in the Shell, this is another forgettable turn by someone who we know can deliver the goods. Kravitz and Glazer register zero, their clichéd caricatures easily defeating their endeavours. McKinnon, who has genuine comic flair, basically sits around during several sequences waiting for something funny to come her way, and it doesn’t help that she articulates a distressingly off-putting attempt at an Australian accent. Absolutely unbearable is Bell, who is fatally obnoxious as Alice, and is shamelessly patterned after Kathryn Hahn’s uninhibited character from Bad Moms. Obviously told to deliver her dialogue several decibels above that of Hahn’s, Bell grates on one’s nerves very, very quickly.

The blame however has to fall on the writers and director, who seem to have absolutely no idea of how to create, form, and execute a decent comedy. Co-writer/co-star/producer Downs and co-writer/producer/director Lucia Aniello fail to effectively, or even fundamentally, thread together a story that is fluid and well-paced, indulging in nonsensical behaviour that relies on lazy convenience and trite contrivance. Aniello seems to display no rapport with her actors at all, with every performance seeming stilted, off-cue, and forced. The less said about the exceptionally poor script the better, which feel more like a series of sloppily constructed, painfully unfunny sketches than a focused, cleverly fashioned feature film. Downs and Aniello are the creators of the TV show Broad City, which has garnered a sizeable cult following, but if this garbage is an indication of that program’s quality, then I will be giving it an extremely wide berth.

Rough Night is an ordeal, devoid of genuine laughs and characters of any appeal. On top of that, the film-makers have obviously seen Very Bad Things (1998), a rather under-rated black comedy written and directed by Peter Berg, who treated this material with a bolder, stronger, and more individual touch. Thrown into the imitative mix are Weekend at Bernie’s, The Hangover, Bridesmaids, and as mentioned earlier, Bad Moms. One also remembers Bachelor Party (1984), the classic comedy with Tom Hanks that proved that you can be outrageous and thoroughly good-natured at the same time. I just wish that modern film-makers would realise that strident, in-your-face crudity does not equal actual comedy, and that sometimes being low-key and quietly sharp hits the bullseye more than blatantly throwing the subject matter in your face.

Rating: 1/5

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