If you ever doubted that dying is easy and comedy is hard, then the five-gals-and-a-dead-stripper romp “Rough Night” is here to clear up any confusion. You would be wise not to mistake that statement for a recommendation. The title of this strenuously crude and crotch-obsessed movie may be lazy, but it’s also pretty apt.
Which is not to say there aren’t reasons why a so-so “Bridesmaids” rehash might tug at your curiosity. Maybe you’re eager to see Scarlett Johansson kick back, crack a few jokes and not get body-snatched by aliens or cybernetic engineers for a change. You might have taken a look at the poster and reminded yourself how funny Jillian Bell was in “22 Jump Street,” or decided that no movie featuring Kate McKinnon could be a total waste of time.
Perhaps not, though “Rough Night” comes closer than you’d expect. Directed by Lucia Aniello from a screenplay she wrote with Paul W. Downs (her collaborator on the Comedy Central series “Broad City”), the movie is a filthy, frenetic, R-rated comedy about a bachelorette party that goes violently awry amid a parade of genital jokes, political non sequiturs, and various buff and bared male bodies. Think of it as a feminist “Hangover,” a “Very Bad Things” for the girls-night-out crowd. That’s progress, right?
Johansson plays Jess, a state senatorial candidate who’s about to marry her super-sweet fiancé, Peter (Downs), but not before meeting up with her four best college buds for a wild and crazy weekend in Miami, where they’ve rented a gorgeous if inconveniently glass-walled house. The Alpha female in charge is Jess’ smotheringly possessive best friend, Alice (Bell), who seems to have spent her undergraduate years earning advanced degrees in beer pong and foot-fetish sex play.
Also along for the ride are Frankie (“Broad City” star Ilana Glazer), a hardcore political activist who ditches a protest so she can make it to Miami, and Blair (Zoë Kravitz), a successful businesswoman and soon-to-be-single mom. That Frankie and Blair were once a couple is a plot point that keeps popping up, though not with quite as much jack-in-the-box verve as Jess’ Australian friend Pippa (McKinnon, sporting a broad Down Under accent), whose presence immediately stirs Alice’s jealousy.
With her unhinged delivery and maniacal good cheer, McKinnon came close to saving last year’s all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot, and there are moments when she makes you think she might do the same here. Really, though, between Johansson’s appealing groundedness, Bell’s hard-working aggression, Glazer’s woker-than-thou spunkiness and Kravitz’s playful allure, the casting is frankly the least of the movie’s problems.
“Rough Night” starts to head south around the same time the party does, after the women have had a few drinks, snorted a few lines of cocaine and received a hunky stranger (Ryan Cooper), who has barely had time to strip down to his skivvies before he meets a terrible, if accidental, end. Oops. A collective what-have-we-done meltdown ensues, followed by a protracted and increasingly unfunny game of hide-the-body.
Aniello keeps the action moving fast and the dialogue even faster, but never comes close to tapping into the story’s full grisly/funny potential, which would require at least a few of the characters to function as more than just an assortment of exaggerated quirks. “Rough Night” plays it safe and vulgar, piling on the S&M/necrophilia sight gags and embedding Blair in a particularly tedious subplot involving the swingers next door. (They’re played by Ty Burrell and Demi Moore, who were hopefully well compensated for their mercifully brief screen time.)
As it follows these five friends through their predictable and somewhat programmatic ups and downs, “Rough Night” is eager to show how hip and up-to-the-minute it is, how averse it is to recycling the same old gender stereotypes. While the women get increasingly wasted and battered, Peter’s bachelor party is a tamped-down affair, all fine wines and soft cheeses. The self-conscious subversion doesn’t end there. Given that Jess is running for political office, Johansson’s Hillary Clinton-ish coiffure is probably no more coincidental than the fact that she’s running against an off-screen male candidate who brings Anthony Weiner to mind.
These political jabs serve no real purpose. Their function, no less than the movie’s penile props and dead bodies, is purely decorative, as are the snarky drive-by references to Florida gun laws, police brutality and, at one point, the writings of Malcolm X. To all of which there can only be one sensible response: Resist.
Rating: R, for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: In general release