Whatever the cause of boredom, the American film industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to the remedy. I was overcome with boredom at almost every turn throughout The Mummy last week. A few weeks before that, the same thing happened to me while watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. And again, two or so months ago, at the Melbourne preview screening of Ghost in the Shell. These are all films with the fundamental intent of those responsible – excepting perhaps the folk on the business end of filmmaking – to entertain. All three films fell acutely short of that mark.

I was entertained by Lucia Aniello‘s Rough Night. That should be the rule with films that are intended for entertainment, but is by and large the exception. On the surface (and, for that matter, below the surface), it is a hybrid of three other movies; The Hangover, which dealt with the repercussions of a bad night out, Bridesmaids, which focused on feminine camaraderie during the lead up to a wedding and Very Bad Things, which saw the leads accidentally murder a stripper, subsequently forced to figure out how best to deal with the situation. Rough Night is not as good as any of those movies, but it does what a lot of Hollywood films somehow manage to blunder, which is maintain a healthy level of interest throughout.

rough night
Soon to be rough night.

Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) have been best friends during their college years. Ten years on, Jess is running for office and engaged to Peter (Paul W. Downs). Alice, the member of the group who can’t seem to move on from their glory days at college, organises a wild Miami bachelorette weekend. They’re joined by Jess’ Australian friend, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), who wasn’t part of the original gang but gets along with almost everyone immediately. And then a stripper is killed, which is information that you’re already wise to as result of the last paragraph, or any of the film’s promotional material.

Rough Night is, if not leagues ahead then definitely one of the better players on the team right now. That’s less a commendation of Rough Night and more a criticism of the recent state of American comedy. The film is a series of comedic set pieces. Some fall flat, some work, but there’s the sense that the ones that work only work because of the performers, rather than much thought put into each situation on the part of the filmmaker.

Laziness in American comedy may have something to do with the influence of Judd Apatow, who is in the habit of letting the cameras roll while his actors reel off improvised gags in the hope that some may land. That’s not comedy filmmaking, which ought to throw some consideration towards reaping comedy out of the on screen events. Whether Aniello approached Rough Night in a similar manner, I’m not sure, but there is a lack of consideration when it comes to the actual comedy in each potentially comedic episode that is reminiscent of the wave of lacklustre comedies that have arrived on the back of Apatow’s initial success.

Perhaps the most dominating characteristic of Rough Night is that it has no dominating characteristic. It can be funny, but not particularly so. It’s entertaining without being close to decidedly so. All of the central characters fluctuate between likeable and irritable. This is the sort of film that will tip in your esteem depending on the mood you are in when you watch it. The quality of Rough Night should be the base quality for every large (or larger) budget Hollywood film with talent of this calibre. But it isn’t.

6 / 10