The elevator pitch on “Rough Night” could have been shuffled together from several recent marriage-themed comedies: “Four Bridesmaids, One Wedding and a Funeral, Plus Hangovers, approximately.” There’s not much here that’s breakthrough material, but despite enough clichés to fill a recycling facility, it’s enjoyably entertaining.
Part of its agreeable nature comes from the raunchy, exuberant tone of the proceedings. A rather strait-laced bride-to-be and a quartet of her BFFs meet in Miami for her bachelorette bash, with fatal yet funny consequences. This is an unapologetically R-rated romp, taking every available advantage to shower us with generally gross and vulgar but still well-paced amusement.
The key ingredient is the casting, which is spot-on. As Jess, the soon-to-be-bride, we have Scarlett Johansson, not generally a shining light in comedic roles. A video promoting her first candidacy for political office freeze-frames, showing her slack, half-opened, downward-slanting eyes, like a disturbing version of Mr. Potato Head. She’s better at looking crazy than acting crazy.
Still, in this story, she’s exactly what is needed, a slightly prissy straight woman looking on aghast as her weekend getaway goes wildly off the rails — as such shindigs tend to do when, after vacuum cleaner levels of coke snorting by the ladies, the male stripper brought in to shake, bounce and twirl for the guest of honor winds up accidentally killed by the girls mid-lap-dance.
The old college friends involved in causing the calamity and/or trying to clean it up are Alice (Jillian Bell), who’s rather clingy about her diminishing connection to queen bee Jess; squabbling heiress Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and progressive firebrand Frankie (Ilana Glazer) who once were a couple, and Pippa (Kate McKinnon), a dingbat Australian whose attitude stays sunny even in the most felonious circumstances.
It’s a good mismatch of character types, each getting enough attention to work as distinct individuals, talking in an identifiable style and surprising us when we’re sure we know what to anticipate. The most star-spangled performance comes from lively, volatile McKinnon, speaking every line in a yodeling drawl that sounds like a genuine Outback accent. Regardless of whether she’s the focus of a scene, those eyes flash like demented fireworks. Plucky Pippa, cheerfully game to help carry the dancer’s corpse wherever her American hosts want it, is a supporting role that gets its big, breakout moment in a bonus scene added to the end credits. She would have had several starring roles already if I ruled Hollywood, but we’re still in negotiations about that.
Bell is rather brave as Alice, finding the absurdity in the misbehavior of a fundamentally unappealing character. Alice is the needy one of the group, gloating at minor victories and pompous about the key role she thinks that she plays in Jess’ circle. She’s also the film’s would-be sex machine, offering to play advanced forms of footsie with most of the male cast. Everything about her performance makes you love to hate her.
Both Glazer and Kravitz do well independently and together as old college BFFs who have moved too far apart to admit that they’d like to be back together. And special attention is earned by director and co-screenwriter Lucia Aniello, best known for the slapstick feminism of cable’s “Broad City.” Here’s hoping she moves up from Comedy Central and starts offering relatively big-league fun rides like this in future.
★★★ out of 4 stars
Rating: R for crude sexual content, language throughout; drug use and brief bloody images.