Rough Night Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Kate McKinnon. Directed by Lucia Aniello. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
Last year, Broad City writer-producers Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs created a weird little three-episode Comedy Central series called Time Traveling Bong, which didn’t attract much attention but succeeded in showing off their oddball sense of humor and ability to combine social commentary with endearingly dumb jokes. Almost none of that is on display in the duo’s debut feature film, Rough Night, directed by Aniello and written by Aniello and Downs. Broad City star Ilana Glazer occasionally shoehorns in some timely, progressive talking points, but they’re lost amidst the formulaic plot, vulgar jokes and one-note characters.
Glazer joins Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Zoë Kravitz and Kate McKinnon as a group of college friends reuniting a decade after graduation for a Miami bachelorette party celebrating the impending marriage of straight arrow Jess (Johansson). Bell’s needy, overbearing Alice is desperate to plan the perfect weekend and reaffirm her fading friendship with Jess, an emotional arc that frequently brings the humor to a halt and yet never deviates from its predictable trajectory (with Bell as annoying and tiresome a presence as her character). Things go awry when a male stripper hired to entertain the women accidentally end up dead, and the friends decide to stage an increasingly inept cover-up rather than simply calling the cops.
Aniello and Downs seem to be going for a mix of The Hangover and Bridesmaids, with a little bit of Weekend at Bernie’s and some of the 1998 cult comedy Very Bad Things (which had a similar premise but went in a much darker direction). They’ve assembled a talented cast, but the material is consistently subpar, with a plot that goes in circles and runs out of momentum halfway through, only to turn into a half-hearted thriller in its final act (as far too many recent mainstream comedies end up doing). The jokes are rarely clever, although the performers (especially McKinnon, stealing scenes as a loopy Australian) sometimes improve them with spirited delivery. The sporadic laughs from the likable cast members only highlight how much more enjoyable it would be to watch them in a movie that was a bit more laid-back, without the need to constantly raise the stakes.
Instead, Aniello and Downs run through the checklist of a modern Hollywood comedies, including bonding moments between the characters (which never feel authentic), silly side stories (a subplot featuring Jess’ milquetoast fiancé, played by Downs, is particularly annoying) and a violence-filled climax. There’s even a post-credits scene setting up a potential sequel, although everyone involved would be better served by working on something with a bit more originality and creativity. Maybe Time Traveling Bong 2?