[Screen It]


(2017) (Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell) (R)

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Jess (SCARLETT JOHANSSON) is a young thirty-something running for state Senate and engaged to a kind and supportive man named Peter (PAUL W. DOWNS). Her needy best friend from college, Alice (JILLIAN BELL), decides to reunite their circle of friends from college and throw a big bachelorette party in Miami. Invited are Blair (ZOE KRAVITZ), a young professional going through a divorce; Frankie (ILANA GLAZER), a political activist and Blair's former college lover; and Pippa (KATE McKINNON), Jess' onetime college roommate from Australia.

Jess tries to stay on the straight and narrow to have any chance of being elected. But Alice is committed to making it a raucous weekend. When Frankie scores some cocaine at a club, the five friends start an all-night bender of drugs, booze, food, and dancing. When they return to their beach house, Jess discovers that Frankie has hired Scotty (RYAN COOPER), a stripper, to perform for her. Alice gets a little too excited and pounces on him. The man falls backward, hits his head, and dies. With Blair fearing she will lose her son in a custody battle, Jess' political career in jeopardy, and Frankie on her last strike with the law and facing significant prison time, the five friends decide to get rid of the body and never speak of the crime again.

Unfortunately, they are terribly inept at the cover-up. They also discover that their next-door neighbors, promiscuous swingers Pietro (TY BURRELL) and Lea (DEMI MOORE), have security cameras that likely caught much of their illegal hijinks and Blair agrees to a threesome in exchange for the recordings. At the same time, Peter is freaking out at a dropped cell phone call in which he believes Jess has broken up with him. So he vows to wear adult diapers and shot-gun Red Bulls on a madcap drive to Florida to save his impending marriage. Will he get there in time to save Jess and her friends from the two jewel thieves Frazier (DEAN WINTERS) and Ruiz (ENRIQUE MURCIANO) who have also shown up?

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
OK, we get it. After "Bridesmaids" and "Trainwreck" and "Bad Moms" and now "Rough Night" ... the girls can be every bit as coarse, nasty, filthy, and profane as the boys. But now the raunchy comedy subgenre has the same problem as other smut comedies in the post-"Hangover" era. The only way to stand out from what's come before is to go even harder, crasser, dirtier, and even meaner. What these followers lack is what the two films that kicked off this trend -- the original "Hangover" and "Bridesmaids" -- had that rarely gets acknowledged. Really good screenplays!

Now, of course, there were R-rated sex comedies way before this current cycle. As a kid growing up in the '80s, I was too young to see "Porky's" and "Bachelor Party" in their original theatrical runs. But, man, did I wait for those free, unscrambled weekends of HBO and Cinemax; record them and others like them ("Fraternity Vacation," "Private School," etc.); and then wear out the VHS tapes. A decade later, "American Pie" picked up the sword and numerous imitators followed, from "Road Trip" to "Euro Trip."

But these latest efforts like "Dirty Grandpa" and "Project X" have bigger stars and bigger budgets. In recent years, they're also having to compete with increasingly loose and explicit cable-TV and live streaming comedies like "Girls" and "Hung" and "Californication" that offer frank and explicit scenes and little in the way of censoring. So, rather than write legitimately funny dialogue and create distinctive, endearing characters, we basically get thin stories with even thinner characters to hang a succession of gross-out gags on.

The characters in "Rough Night" might very well have been referred to throughout as "The Straight-Laced One," "The Raunchy One," "The Australian One," "The Lesbian One," and so forth. Scarlett Johansson plays one-time party girl Jess, who is now the darling of her political party and is running for state Senate. She is also getting married, and her needy, obscene best friend from college, Alice (Jillian Bell), is throwing her a bachelorette party in Miami with former college besties Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer). Also along for the ride is Pippa (Kate McKinnon), an Aussie woman who roomed with Jess for a year when she was doing international study.

The five don't really have much in common anymore, and the film suffers from it. There is a distinct lack of affection between the ladies throughout. They don't feel much affection for each other, so we don't really either. The meat of the movie comes near the end of its first act. After the five ladies have binge-drank and snorted cocaine at several of Miami's better nightclubs, they return to their beach house and a male stripper soon shows up to grind on Jess. But the horny Alice charges him after a few minutes, the man loses his footing, cracks his head, and dies!

This is all shown in the trailer, but what's not shown is the amount of blood that gushes from the back of the guy's head. The film takes a long time -- too long, in my opinion -- to regain its comic footing after this dark turn. I mean, even in "Weekend at Bernie's," the two dudes didn't actually murder Bernie. He died naturally and they had to walk around with his corpse for a few days for reasons I can't quite remember. There was a certain silliness and absurdity to that similarly themed flick. Here, the main death is a sinister turn that makes it really hard to once again crank back up the raunch. It tries with penis-shaped sunglasses and a kooky swinger couple next door (Ty Burrell and Demi Moore) hell-bent on seducing Blair into their bed. But it's very awkward.

The elements just don't work well together. And when, late in the film, the screenplay goes soft and actually resolves its central dilemma off-screen (!), you realize there should have been at least one or two more passes at the screenplay before filming should have begun. Actually, the best running gag in the flick belongs to the male end of the story. Jess' fiancÚ, Peter (co-writer Paul W. Downs), takes it upon himself to drive overnight to Miami to save what he thinks is his broken engagement. So, he straps on adult diapers, downs Red Bulls and pills, and makes for the Sunshine State vowing not to stop 'til he reaches his beloved. But, of course, his journey goes terribly wrong, too.

Ah well. I've certainly seen worse in this genre. I really do think all concerned were just one or two more rewrites from being a good comedy, and that's a shame. In its current form, "Rough Night" is an evening I'd just as soon forget. I give it a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed June 14, 2017 / Posted June 16, 2017

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