Expectations matter. I went into a screening of “Rough Night” thinking I’d find a rank formulaic gender twist on “The Hangover” and was surprised to find an enthusiastic formulaic gender twist on “The Hangover,” with just enough dopey laughs to make it bearable. By contrast, a friend went into the same screening hoping for cleverness and wit from the high-profile comic cast, and she hated the thing.
The lesson? Sometimes you have to lower the bar.
The film’s calculus is obvious: “Bridesmaids” plus “The Hangover” with a smattering of “Weekend at Bernie’s” and “Very Bad Things,” the 1998 dead-hooker-at-a-stag-party movie. Scarlett Johansson is the bride-to-be, Jess, a tightly wound Type A running for political office, and Jillian Bell is Alice, the brassy, neurotic best friend who’s over-planning Jess’s Miami bachelorette blow-out because she has no life of her own. Along for the ride is the rest of the college crew: chic business executive Blair (Zoe Kravitz), obstreperous social activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Jess’s Australian exchange-student chum Pippa (Kate McKinnon).
The weekend progresses through raunchy sight gags, filthy dialogue, and a lot of cocaine, and it hops the believability track early, as soon as the male entertainer (Ryan Cooper) Alice has hired fatally conks his head on the fireplace. Panic ensues, then attempts to get rid of the body, and if you don’t laugh at the sight of the stars jammed into a tiny Smart Car with a dead stripper halfway through the sun-roof wearing penis-nose sunglasses — well, you are a better and more civilized person than I.
Johansson holds down the sympathetic center and leaves the frenzied comedy to others. McKinnon, the current wild card of “Saturday Night Live,” massacres an Australian accent and literally throws herself into the physical gags. Kravitz plays it more sophisticated, although her dalliance with a pair of swingers next door (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell) comes close to smutty farce. Glazer brings some of the ripe rudeness of “Broad City,” the Comedy Central show in which she stars with Abbi Jacobson.
“Rough Night,” in fact, is a semi-successful attempt to port the anarchic sensibility of “Broad City” — imagine Lucy and Ethel as potheads with poor impulse control — to the big screen. Director Lucia Aniello is a “Broad City” alum, as is her co-writer Paul W. Downs, and what’s fresh about the film is the geniality with which it jettisons good taste and plays games with gender expectations. Some of the most absurdly amusing scenes here involve Jess’s sensitive sweetheart of a fiancee (Downs), racing from his all-male wine tasting to rescue her while driving through the night wearing adult diapers.
The weak link is Bell, who’s more annoying than funny and whose jealous snits over Pippa’s friendship with the bride are a tedious rehash of the Kristen Wiig/Rose Byrne subplot in “Bridesmaids.” “Rough Night” won’t make you forget that box-office hit, and it certainly won’t make you forget the darker, punchier “Bachelorette,” if you were one of the relative handful to see that 2012 Kirsten Dunst comedy. What’s nice about this movie, actually, is that you can get a few shameless laughs out of it and then forget you saw it at all.
Directed by Lucia Aniello. Written by Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoe Kravitz, Kate McKinnon. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 97 minutes. R (crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use, brief bloody images, dead strippers).Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.