The concept of “Rough Night” isn’t an especially original one. With its story about a Miami bachelorette party that goes outrageously off the rails, comparisons to “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” are inevitable.
Not that the movie belongs in the same comedic pantheon as those earlier films. For one thing, it’s not as fresh, tightly scripted or as funny.
In truth, this raunch-com is closer to “Very Bad Things,” the middling black comedy from 1998 about a group of guys at a bachelor party who accidentally kill a prostitute. At least “Rough Night” clears the low bar set by that film. Though not all of its lowbrow jokes land, when they do, they really do – to the sound of stomach-clutching guffaws.
Directed by Lucia Aniello from a script co-written with Paul W. Downs – both of whom work on “Broad City” – “Rough Night” begins in 2006 at a college where four best friends are celebrating Halloween the only way they know how: by playing beer pong in tasteless costumes. Later that evening, during an alcohol-fueled love fest, they vow to be friends forever, imagining an idyllic future in which their kids are best buddies, too.
Fast-forward a decade, and the crew isn’t quite as close as the girls once predicted. Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is a workaholic with political aspirations who likes to spend quiet nights at home with her fiance, Peter. This irks her needy best friend, Alice (Jillian Bell), a schoolteacher who’s trying to figure out the whole “adulting” thing. Perpetually unshowered Frankie (Ilana Glazer, also of “Broad City”) is a full-time activist, while her college ex Blair (Zoe Kravitz) is a perfectly put-together career woman who’s preoccupied by a custody battle with her estranged husband.
Along with Pippa (Kate McKinnon), an Aussie free spirit in a flowing dress who knows Jess from studying abroad, they all convene in Miami to celebrate Jess’ impending nuptials. Alice, spotting an interloper in Pippa, can barely contain her jealous rage.
Jess’ wild days are behind her, so she’s hoping for a low-key affair. But that goes out the window after Frankie scores some cocaine from a busboy during dinner. After dancing, drinking shots, vomiting a little and taking more drugs, the ladies head back to the palatial beach house where they’re staying for more fun: Frankie has ordered a stripper (Ryan Cooper).
This is when the story takes a sharp turn from a comedy about tricky friendship dynamics to something darker. After an accident kills the entertainment – literally – the women make a series of bad decisions that leave them with little choice but to dispose of the body. Prepare yourself for some “Weekend at Bernie’s” moments.
The plotting is a little bumpy, compounded by erratic pacing and lazy dialogue. But that doesn’t diminish the hilarious moments, many of which involve Peter, who leaves his own bachelor party in Charleston, South Carolina – where he’s spending a classy weekend of wine tasting with his dweeby groomsmen – to go to Miami after he starts to worry about his bride-to-be. There are sight gags aplenty, cleverly shot for maximum shock and humor.
Meanwhile, each of the five actresses gets a chance to shine comedically, even the (relatively) straight players Johansson and Kravitz. McKinnon steals the show, per usual, even in a role that’s less of an attention-grabber than, say, her “Ghostbusters” character last summer.
Though hardly an instant classic, “Rough Night” ultimately builds to a satisfyingly ludicrous conclusion, even with all its borrowed elements. At the very least, it does what any raunchy comedy should: make you laugh and squirm. These days, that’s a win.