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Rough Night Review

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Rough Night poster

"Rough h Night" is good one minute, weak or stilted or wince-y the next, though even with seriously uneven pacing and inventiveness it's a somewhat better low comedy than "Snatched" or "Bad Moms," or (here's where I part company with the world) the "Hangover" pictures. Yes, even the first one.

The premise is "Bridesmaids" marries "Weekend at Bernie's," and the raunch level is persistent, verging on "skeevy enough for ya?" At their Miami bachelorette party weekend, five longtime college friends reunite for a wee bacchanal. These are aspiring state senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson); schoolteacher Alice (Jillian Bell), Jess' needy friend who has organized the weekend down to the last pair of penis-nose eyeglasses; borderline-homeless activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), whose onetime lover, Blair (Zoe Kravitz), is in the middle of a custody battle; and Jess' junior-year-abroad pal from Australia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), whom jealous Alice systematically undermines in a fairly tiresome running gag.

Pretty quickly, and purely by accident, Alice kills the male stripper hired for the occasion, which leads to a fair amount of panic about proper corpse disposal. (In its spec-script stage the original title of "Rough Night" was "Move That Body.") Meantime Jess' straight-laced, distraught fiance (Paul W. Downs), hopped up on expired Russian Adderall and Red Bull, drives like a maniac down from Charleston, S.C., desperate to see if his beloved is in trouble or really, really serious trouble. The script by director Lucia Aniello and Downs (partners in life as well as in writing) escalates the adversity in orderly three-act form. Aniello's work on "Broad City" is in a significantly higher and more sophisticated level of effrontery than "Rough Night." Still, what's happening in the margins here is often interesting.

There's a strong subtext of anger to be found: Jess trails her political opponent in the polls, even though he's been sexting up a storm and sending Anthony Weiner-type photos to his followers. At regular intervals Jess and friends take time out for heartfelt expressions of regret and disappointment; then, with a jerk of the gears, it's back to the randy pansexual beach house neighbors (Ty Burrell and Demi Moore), who have their eye on Blair.

This, reportedly, is the first R-rated studio comedy directed by a woman in years. As such there's a completely stupid degree of pressure on Aniello to deliver. She's less attuned to the violent altercations and painful slapstick (not helped by some odd, stilted editing rhythms) and more successful with the verbal asides or comic detours. The way McKinnon's Aussie dialect lays into certain phrases (her long o's on "no joke" are the longest o's ever heard outside Minnesota), or the witty awkwardness of Jess' campaign ad we see near the beginning -- these and other details belong to one picture, while the cocaine- and alcohol-fueled insanity is off on another mission altogether. As I say: It's better than a lot of the hard-R-rated crud we've had lately, which says what it says. I hope "Rough Night" makes a profit, so Aniello can get to her second film, and then her third.

MPAA rating: R (for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and brief bloody images).

Running time: 1:41

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