The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Rough Night

Back in 1998, there was a comedy called Very Bad Things, about a bunch of guys who hire a stripper for a bachelor party, accidentally kill her, then turn on each other as they attempt to dispose of the body. It's a loud, shrieky movie that wastes the talents of Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, and (as the bride-to-be) Cameron Diaz, giving them little to do except walk around screaming at each other. Rough Night does not give story credit to Very Bad Things despite being a gender-swapped version of the premise. If originality isn't the film's strong suit, it at least executes the idea in a more satisfying fashion.

Scarlett Johansson plays Jess, a candidate for state Senate who is engaged to Peter (Paul W. Downs). She goes to Miami for a bachelorette party with her old college pals: hyper-needy best friend Alice (Jillian Bell); Aussie exchange student Pippa (Kate McKinnon); weed-loving activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and sleek, snooty Blair (Zoe Kravitz). Frankie hires a male stripper, who falls and fatally hits his head after an overeager Alice tries to get in on the action. They call Blair's lawyer uncle for help. He tells them that, since they moved the corpse, they could be facing involuntary manslaughter charges. Each of the women has a reason for wanting to avoid legal trouble, so they make a series of unsuccessful attempts to get rid of the guy's body.

The general problem with a movie like Rough Night is that it depends on the characters doing the least logical thing at every moment. If anyone had a shred of common sense, the film would be over rather quickly. Therefore, the screenplay has to create contrivances to A.) explain why they can't do the logical thing; and B.) ensure that the illogical thing they're doing repeatedly fails so that they can do something else that's equally illogical.

Then again, what is comedy if not people behaving irrationally for our amusement? Although a bit strained in the credibility department, Rough Night is fun because it offers a sufficient number of laughs. The dialogue is often sharp, and some of the comic situations are hilariously absurd. There's a very funny and decidedly naughty -- scene in which Blair tries to circumvent an obstacle by allowing herself to become entangled with the swinging couple (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell, stealing every scene they're in) living in the beach house next door.

Perhaps the zaniest gag involves a worried Peter deciding to go to Miami to confront Jess. It references the bizarre real-life case of former astronaut Lisa Nowak, building on its own preposterousness with impressive regularity. I don't think anything onscreen this year has made me laugh harder than the way this subplot is set up.

Not all the jokes land, and a few fall considerably flat. Even when that happens, a first-rate cast keeps things propped up. Johannson, McKinnon, Bell, Glazer, and Kravitz all have a firm handle on the characters they're playing. The bond between them feels real, and the actresses have a way of adding zing to their line deliveries. That's particularly true of Bell. Sometimes you chuckle not because what she says is funny but because the way she says it is funny. The casting is strong overall, which proves to be a real benefit.

Rough Night tries to wedge in some heartfelt observations about female friendship among the raunchy humor. (This blessedly replaces the shrill yelling of Very Bad Things.) They're appealing, even if they don't totally pay off. A third act scenario, meanwhile, resolves the central dilemma in a manner that's both artificial and predictable. Again, the actresses inject so much energy into the film that one can easily play along despite it being far-fetched.

Director Lucia Aniello (Broad City), keeps the pace quick and ensures that characterization remains as much of a priority as shenanigans. Rough Night has its flaws, but it's funny enough to generally overcome them, and the chance to see so many wonderful actresses displaying their comedic skills is a pleasure.

( out of four)

Rough Night is rated R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.

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