Rough Night (R) ★★★

Review Date: June 19th, 2017

Now that Hollywood has discovered the female audience, the studios aren't shy about "counterprogramming" as means of attraction. Rough Night is being released into the heart of the summer season, set up for a head-to-head struggle with the testosterone-steeped fifth Transformers movie. It's progress of a sort - then again, having anything to see opposite a Transformers film can't be considered a bad thing. Rough Night takes its inspiration from Peter Berg's 1998 black comedy Very Bad Things. It's a kinder, gentler usage of the same premise (although the genders have been flipped) with comedy that's in the vein of The Hangover with a little Weekend at Bernie's thrown in for good measure.

One thing Rough Night avoids is an endless reliance on bodily fluid humor. Yes, one gag involves vomit but that's pretty much it. There's far more blood than there is semen (none), vomit (a smidgen), and urine (a little). The movie gets raunchy at times (although it's never too graphic) with plenty of sex and drugs. The comedy is uneven but there are at least as many laughs here as in Snatched and some of the best jokes are belly busters. My favorite involves a slow car and a speed bump.

For bride-to-be Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and her four musketeerettes, Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Pippa (Kate McKinnon), it's off to Miami (Vegas apparently having been overexposed in movies of this sort) and a weekend of sun, strippers, coke, and booze. But Murphy is along for the ride, ready to employ his law, and things start going wrong almost immediately. Soon the group is stuck with a dead body with nowhere to hide it. Jess' fiancé, Peter (Paul W. Downs), thinks she has broken up with him long-distance. And the sex-crazed neighbors (Demi Moore & Ty Burrell) want a threesome with Blair.

Director Lucia Aniello, making her feature debut and working from a script she co-wrote with Paul W. Downs (who appears in the film as Peter), cannily varies the kind of comedy. There's enough variety here that everyone's funny bone should be tickled from time-to-time. There's gross stuff, smart stuff, slapstick, dead body abuse, sex, and drug addled behavior. Some of the cleverest material involves cross-cutting between the women's off-the-wall bachelorette party and the guys' mellow reflection (which involves wine tasting before devolving into a shopping spree for adult diapers). Rough Night incorporates some action/thriller material that doesn't work and the "dramatic" elements (infighting and bonding) are d.o.a., but those are minor things. The movie knows it's a comedy and rarely tries to be anything else.

Scarlett Johansson, who has of late been spending a lot of time in superhero and sci-fi flicks, gets a chance to hone her comedy chops. She has shown good comedic timing before (in the Coen Brothers' Hail Caesar! For example) and it's in evidence here. All of the women get at least one opportunity to shine, although McKinnon is guilty of frequent scene-stealing. The only living male of note is Downs, who is hilariously over-the-top during his solo road trip. Ryan Cooper plays a dead body, which is almost certainly more difficult than it looks - just ask Terry Kiser.

I'm sure comparisons will be made to Bridesmaids. After all, both movies are comedies, have primarily female casts, and feature events prior to a wedding. Despite those similarities, however, the films are much different. That's not so say those who enjoyed Bridesmaids won't like Rough Night (or vice versa) but that the films are cut from different kinds of cloth. The Hangover is a closer match.

I have often written that the only thing I demand from a comedy is that it makes me laugh - frequently if possible. Rough Night is undoubtedly flawed. It's uneven and on those occasions when the screenplay veers into unfunny territory, it sputters, but the movie has a much better than average laugh-per-minute ratio. It also features likeable performances and doesn't overstay its welcome. Although not as vicious as Very Bad Things, it's not afraid to go a little dark. All that adds up to a good way to spend a couple of hours, especially considering some of the higher profile competition.

© 2017 James Berardinelli