To describe “Rough Night,” a new ensemble comedy starring Scarlett Johansson, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell and Ilana Glazer, as a comedy of errors makes it sound more genteel than it actually is. Deadly mistakes are made on this weekend bachelorette party getaway and there is loads of comedy but there is nothing genteel about this dark and debauched movie.
Johansson is Jess, an A-Type candidate for state senate and bride-to-be. When her former college roommates (and fellow beer-pong champions) arrange a weekend in Miami she’s hoping for a quiet, dignified affair. Her friends Alice (Bell), Blair (Kravitz), Frankie (Glazer) and Pippa (McKinnon) Jess’s Australian friend from a semester abroad, have different ideas; ideas that include foam parties, booze and male strippers.
The trouble starts early when Frankie uncorks a bottle of champagne at the airport and the pop, mistaken for a gunshot, causes panic. Checking into their swanky beach house (courtesy of Jess’s biggest and only campaign donors) they get the party started. Adding to the loose atmosphere are the swingers (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell) in the house next door. “This weekend is all about us,” says Jess, “just like old times.” And it is like old times, with camaraderie, laughs and plenty of booze and drugs until Alice accidentally kills the male stripper they hired as entertainment. “It really is a tragedy,” says Pippa, “he could have been a scientist and cured cancer.”
Aspiring politician Jess immediately kicks into survival mode, engaging in the great political pastime, the cover-up. “I know things are crazy right now,” she says, “but you’re going to have a lot of material for my wedding speeches.”
“Rough Night” breathes the same air as other big, raunchy ensemble movies like “Very Bad Things,” “How to be Single,” “The Night Before” and “The Hangover.” It embraces its wild side, adds a dollop of “Weekend at Bernie’s” to take advantage of its star power and push the envelope.
The first half hour plays like a naughty comedy, giddy with the promise of a raunchy good time. The tone changes abruptly as the body lies in a crimson puddle set against the stark white tile floor. There are still laughs but they come from a different place, a nasty place that takes some of the air out of this comedy balloon. It never quite gets to the level of inspired lunacy that “Bridesmaids” found so effortlessly because it doesn’t have the same kind of heart.
It does, however, have several fun moments, both before and after the death, most courtesy of McKinnon, Bell and Paul W. Downs who plays Jess’s nice-guy fiancée Peter.
McKinnon brings a wonky Australian accent and her trademark off kilter presence to the role of the best friend from far away. She plays Pippa like a visitor from Mars not Australia, someone who tries to fit in even though she’s unfamiliar with the ways of the rest of society.
Bell, who has shone in small roles in movies like “Fist Fight,” “22 Jump Street” and “The Night Before” is given a chance to strut her stuff here. She plays Alice as the kind of loose canon who throws up on the bar and nonchalantly says, “It smells like barf here. Let’s get outta here.” She’s the comedic engine who keeps the movie from succumbing to its dark side.
It would be a spoiler to describe Downs’ contribution to the goings on. Suffice to say, it involves Red Bull, gymnastics, adult diapers and a sweet disposition.
“Rough Night” has laughs but they are mostly derived from an unpleasant situation. It’s fun to see how the dynamics of the college friends manifest under stressful circumstances but the strain they feel mirrors the strain the movie feels trying to find a consistent, funny tone.