Sandpaper Required

You’ve likely heard the quote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” but fewer people have heard how the line ends: “that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” The film industry believes in imitation as a business model. If a style or genre of film worked once, they assume it will work a dozen more times. Currently, thanks to the success of The Hangover and Bridesmaids, there’s a flow of R-rated comedies coming out of Hollywood. We get Neighbors, Office Christmas Party, and Fist Fight, among many others. Currently, the movie on the marquee is Rough Night.

Rough is right. The movie veers wildly from farce to gross-out comedy to action, with a script that seems more concerned about checking all the usual boxes. Sex? Check. Drug use? Check. Australian friend? Check. Director Lucia Aniello co-wrote the script with Paul W. Downs, the pair having worked together on the TV series “Broad City” and the mini-series “Time Traveling Bong.” I’d say the writing is cartoonish, except cartoons usually do comedy better.

The plot, such as it is, concerns four college friends reuniting for a bride’s night out. Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is about to marry Peter (screenwriter Downs) and Jess’ college roommate Alice (Jillian Bell) has organized a trip to Miami to celebrate. Also invited are their two best friends from college, Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), as well as Jess’ friend from Australia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon). The writers substitute stereotypes for characters: Jess is a hapless political candidate that no one really supports, Alice is the NFF (needy fat friend), Blair’s a hard-driving career woman, Frankie’s a liberal organizer in flannel shirt and jeans, and Pippa is Rebel Wilson.

After a coke-fueled trip to a nightclub, the women return to the house they’re borrowing. Frankie has ordered a male stripper from Craig’s List, and when a handsome though surly guy comes to the door, she invites him in. The guy does a rough dance, but grosses Jess out. Alice calls out that it’s her turn and leaps into the guy’s lap, sending him falling backwards so he hits his head against the fireplace and dies.

Paul calls Jess from his bachelor party, a pretentious evening of wine-tasting, and she almost confesses what happened before the phone’s grabbed from her hand and smashed. Paul (of course) assumes Jess is breaking up with him. Worse, he listens to his friends when they recommend he act like the former female astronaut who drove from Houston to Florida wearing adult diapers so she didn’t have to stop to confront a rival. (Apparently the writers didn’t remember the woman did it to murder her rival and then get back to Houston fast enough to establish an alibi. They convinced themselves the visuals would be funny. They aren’t.)

What follows is pretty much cobbled together from other films (The Trouble With Harry, Weekend at Bernie’s, Ruthless People, and others) while the women do everything they shouldn’t in the situation. The best part of this pastiche is Kate McKinnon, though she’ll likely be roasted on the barbee in Australia for her accent. On the other hand, ScarJo is miscast. One subplot has Ty Burrell and an unrecognizable Demi Moore as oversexed neighbors, a trope meant to titillate but that is just tedious.

The plot twists might as well be accompanied by flashing lights and blaring horns – subtlety is not something the script aspires to accomplish. And it twists itself into a pretzel to work out a happy ending. But probably the best way to sum up the movie is that there’s a long tag at the end of the credits to tie up a plot point, but I’d long before given up caring to pay attention.

Rough Night could definitely use sandpaper on its rough edges.

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