The switch to dark, body-disposal comedy isn’t unheard of – frankly, in substance if not style, Rough Night is basically a gender-swapped remake of Peter Berg’s jet-black 1998 directorial debut Very Bad Things. But that film was acidic about its characters, to the point of toxicity; Rough Night both wants us to love them and cheer them on as they try to wiggle out of responsibility for the murder they’ve committed. This is a very hard to turn to navigate, and Aniello can’t pull it off.
If the movie can’t sustain the shift to black comedy, it sure as hell can’t pull off the high-jump to oh-so-serious friend-issue sentimentality, in the form of running tension between Alice’s clinginess and Jess’s workaholic tendencies. You’ve seen these tired characterizations and conflicts before, too many times, and they are, to put it mildly, an odd fit with the blood-cleanup stuff. And seeing Bell — who used her murderous snark and tart line readings to single-handedly steal 22 Jump Street — shipwrecked in this sad character is downright depressing.
There are pockets, here and there, of things that work – mostly in the form of McKinnon, who is never not funny (though she has scenes that put that theorem to the test). Her rolling suitcases make an inspired comic prop, and even when the picture sags in the back half, her manic energy is a gift that keeps on giving. You see what Aniello and Downs are going for, in flashes – a bit confusing a Malcolm X quote and a John Mayer lyric, some business with their lusty neighbors (a game Demi Moore and Ty Burrell), the contrasts between the bachelorette party and the snoozy wine tasting of the simultaneous bachelor party of the groom, played by Mr. Downs.
But his subplot, in which he reenacts the story of the diaper-wearing binge-driving astronaut from 2007 (timely!), descends quickly into straight-up desperation – particularly when you realize they’re using Paul Downs as comic relief in a movie featuring Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, and Kate freaking McKinnon. Watching Rough Night accomplish the seemingly impossible task of putting those women in a room together and not getting laughs, while sidetracking them with touchy-feely detours and a drop-in appearance by gun-wielding diamond thieves (yes, really), prompts a rather unnerving feeling of déjà vu; we just went through this last month, with Snatched. One of these per summer is more than enough.
“Rough Night” is out Friday.