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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Review-ish: Rough Night

roughnight blur 651

Rough Night really doesn’t need a review.

The film takes five appealing and funny actors, starts down the road of a very broad (no pun intended) comedy, and then stops dead in its tracks with the absolutely accidental death of a guy who they think is a stripper.

Didn’t put a “Spoiler Alert” there, as the fact that he isn’t the stripper they were expecting is not telegraphed, but sky-written. And that doesn’t get corrected for what seems like forever… which stands in as an example of what is wrong with this movie.

The comparisons to Peter Berg’s directing debut, the much-debated 1998 Very Bad Things (I was not a fan) don’t seem apt to me, as that film was never positioned as a wacky fun comedy… pitch-black in tone from stem to stern. Yeah, dead sex worker.

Rough Night, on the other hand, is very much a “slightly uptight grown-up woman gets her goofy groove back after a weekend with her crazy friends” comedy for the entire first act… and that is when it (mostly) works. It’s a disjointed mess, pushing gags over story, but with these women, it is fun.

Then, as soon as the “stripper” is killed, in an utterly silly, innocent way, it turns into a “how would women behave if they killed a stripper in Miami by mistake, but a couple of the friends had something to lose if they called the police, so they slowly melt down” drama, much more akin to Netflix’s “Bloodline” than Weekend At Bernie’s.

As I sat in the theater, I wondered, “Is this the female identification movie that women want to see and I just don’t get it?” I don’t think anyone needs to see that. I truly love watching these women do comedy. But as soon as you flip the switch to drama, you need great writing and a solid story… and this film has neither.

A couple moments stuck out.

“Stripper” is bleeding heavily from his head and it is about to get on the white carpet that one of the characters mentioned not wanting to stain. So what is the solution? Towels! They make a big deal out of staining the towels for a second, but towels. Perfectly sane choice. And boring. It doesn’t raise the comedy level. It doesn’t raise the drama level. It’s just what you would do. Not good comedy. Not good drama. Just… so what?

Great visual gag in the second act when the ladies decide to move the body away from the house. All they have access to is a Smart Car (or whatever tiny vehicle it is). The car is so small that the corpse is sticking out of the sunroof with his arms out of the windows. Funny image. But it is only that because we don’t get the process of putting him in the car… or the need for all four (the fifth is napping) women to be in the car at once… or on what planet they think a cop wouldn’t pull them over… or anything much more than the visual gag, which also comes in the middle of these women seriously trying to figure out how to rid themselves of the body.

I am willing to eat most of the wacky comedy coincidences in the script, even if they make no sense. It’s not a documentary. When anyone gets control of a bad guy and then tosses the gun away within reach, you know the bad guy is coming back with that gun. Movie Cliche 4369. I can live with that. And the lack of backstory that would enrich the story… unfortunate loss, but I so like these women.

But you need to pick a tone unless changing tone is going to be brilliant. Demme’s Something Wild went to a deep, brutally dark place in the third act after a lot of whimsy and sexy romance. But some of the most memorable moments in cinema (and Ray Liotta’s career) came out of it.

Before I stop, one beat that I liked a lot and thought would have been brilliant if it was played out. In one of the beats, the amazing Ilana Glazer, who plays a character who seems up for pretty much anything (though seriously lesbian), goes from trying to seduce a cop to knocking him out after he feels her up. There is so much going on there. The flip from passivity to aggression. The thought about what she would do if she knew the guy was a stripper, not a cop (again… no need to SPOILER ALERT, as you will see it coming a block away). The power of a small woman being able to knock a large man out with one good shot to the head. A lot of her character is right there in a 15-second bit…if you fill it out a bit. But instead, it was another gag that made little sense, but that you would forgive happily if it made any sense.

In a weird way, Rough Night is like a failed Midnight Run, where the story was complex, often right at the edge of credibility, but just kept on surprising you and within a minute made sense at every turn because the characters were so well-drawn and… well… because it made sense. Take any big gag in Midnight Run, set it aside from that film, and you get a “will the audience believe that?” in a development meeting. Here you have five strong performers with pretty clear characters and they stay on the rails pretty well… until you get to the major event of the film and then it becomes oil and balsamic without a piece of bread to force them to stay together in one place.

I won’t even start on the outsized amount of time put into one relationship that isn’t critical to the movie’s outcome.

This is The Summer of The Missing Producer. Love or hate IP films, there are better ones and worse ones. There is good and bad in Wonder Woman, but the creative producers let that script hold together in a way that made for one of the best films of the summer. But Baywatch? Snatched? King Arthur? Plenty of talent involved… solid foundations (however well worn)… but at some point in each film (some from the casting stage), these ideas are blown into the ether and there is nothing holding things together besides isolated jokes, abs or other body parts, great cinematography, excessive scoring, and the fact that you already paid for your ticket.

Gotta get better… right?

9 Responses to “Review-ish: Rough Night”

  1. Blanco Popular says:

    Nothing gets better till they remove Tom Rothman and it may already be too late. Eleven million dollars for Michael Lynton to drive the place into the shitter for the last year?

  2. Ryan says:

    Every time a new film gets compared to something classic, I cringe at the thought of the inevitable reboot. I beg Hollywood to just leave Midnight Run alone.

  3. Movieman says:

    Its biggest failing–besides a shocking dearth of laughs–is that we never believe Scar-Jo, et al were ever friends in the first place.
    Bad casting
    As much as I want female-driven films to succeed, this deserves to fail. Big-ly.

  4. Sideshow Bill says:

    That’s a shame. B LOVE Illana Glazer and Jillian Bell (who is brilliant on the very underrated and mishandled Idiotsitter, on Comedy Central). This looks like another one I skip until it’s on cable.

  5. YancySkancy says:

    Agree with Sideshow about Idiotsitter, and Charlotte Newhouse is possibly even better than Bell in it.

  6. hcat says:

    Sounds like the Missing Producer Syndrome hit the Book of Henry as well.

  7. EtGuild2 says:

    BOOK OF HENRY is the type of delightfully nuts garbage you can only get when a successful bad director is given carte blanche. Schumacheresque.

    Rothman has to go. HOMECOMING staunches the bleeding perhaps, but unsure now with two of the top 10 or 11 all-time domestic superhero grossers already dropping this summer. THE DARK TOWER looks like a trainwreck, which is amazing considering it’s been in development hell for 15 years+

  8. Sideshow Bill says:

    They make a great pair, Yancy. I love that show. Bell is always good. She was really good in the underrated The Night Before, and she straight-up stole 22 Jump Street. I’ll watch this for her and Glaze. Broad City is my shit.

  9. ADFan says:

    Two of the five ladies aren’t exactly “funny”. At least based on their CVs.

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