June has been a big month for women in movies with Wonder Woman, Megan Leavey and even Cars 3 putting them on equal or better footing than men.
Now comes Rough Night, proving women are just as capable as men of shaping mediocre comedies.
A catnip cast and director Lucia Aniello's Broad City instincts are drowned by gender-flipped formula not shaken up enough. If girls will be boys then show boys how they can do raunchy better. Rough Night wouldn't be fresh or funny no matter what gender it's written about or for.
Take Scarlett Johansson's Jess, for example. She has one of those movie occupations typically reserved for men: running for political office with fiance Peter (Paul W. Downs) patiently on the side. Jess' tight race would be a good reason to skip a Miami bachelorette party, but making sense would stop this movie dead in its tracks.
Jess party pals include three college friend types: former roommate and currently needy Alice (Jillian Bell), scrappy Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and her dorm fling Blair (Zoe Kravitz), now unhappily married. The latter couple's sexual tension is the only thing separating this crew from Hangover dynamics. Well, that and Kate McKinnon's unchecked lunacy.
McKinnon plays Jess' friend from New Zealand, Pippa, whom the bride-to-be apparently never mentioned to anyone. The performance is a clear example of how little control Aniello exerted. Nothing about Pippa's meth-eyed mania and McKinnon's accent suggests she might actually exist, which would improve comic effect.
Rough Night flips energetically through hangover genre tropes, tweaked for feminine expression. Blow-up dolls are now phallic party favors. Cocaine is more nightclub chic than rooftop roofies. One party's hooker is the other's male dancer (Ryan Cooper), whose accidental death is this story's hook. All roads lead to involvement with dangerous criminals, the last refuge of aimless screenwriters Downs and Aniello.
The dancer's death knocks Rough Night off its feminism rhythm, darkly at first then madcap to a fault. These women who had their acts together (well, not Pippa) fall apart, making wacky choices of how to dispose of the corpse; Bridesmaids at Bernie's. Johansson seems more uncomfortable with each gag, feeling better when the script puts a gun in her hand. Bell's blank-faced overcompensation is the closest to a genuine comic performance although Ty Burrell and Demi Moore's turns as next-door swingers steal the show.
As co-writer, Downs did himself a favor with his role as Peter, whose misunderstanding of Jess' intention sends him on a "sad astronaut" road trip to Miami. That term and its definition are the only part of Rough Night likely to be cribbed for use among friends. It's also a bummer that in a comedy about women the dude still gets the choicest material.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.