Movie reviews: 'Rough Night' fun but lacks consistent laughs
Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon, Zoë Kravitz, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer in Rough Night © 2017 - Columbia Pictures
Published Friday, June 16, 2017 5:42AM EDT
ROUGH NIGHT: 3 STARS
To describe “Rough Night,” a new ensemble comedy starring Scarlett Johansson, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell and Ilana Glazer, as a comedy of errors makes it sound more genteel than it actually is. Deadly mistakes are made on this weekend bachelorette party getaway and there is loads of comedy but there is nothing genteel about this dark and debauched movie.
Johansson is Jess, an A-Type candidate for state senate and bride-to-be. When her former college roommates (and fellow beer-pong champions) arrange a weekend in Miami she’s hoping for a quiet, dignified affair. Her friends Alice (Bell), Blair (Kravitz), Frankie (Glazer) and Pippa (McKinnon) Jess’s Australian friend from a semester abroad, have different ideas; ideas that include foam parties, booze and male strippers.
The trouble starts early when Frankie uncorks a bottle of champagne at the airport and the pop, mistaken for a gunshot, causes panic. Checking into their swanky beach house (courtesy of Jess's biggest and only campaign donors) they get the party started. Adding to the loose atmosphere are the swingers (Demi Moore and Ty Burrell) in the house next door. “This weekend is all about us,” says Jess, “just like old times.” And it is like old times, with camaraderie, laughs and plenty of booze and drugs until Alice accidentally kills the male stripper they hired as entertainment. “It really is a tragedy,” says Pippa, “he could have been a scientist and cured cancer.”
Aspiring politician Jess immediately kicks into survival mode, engaging in the great political pastime, the cover-up. “I know things are crazy right now,” she says, “but you’re going to have a lot of material for my wedding speeches.”
“Rough Night” breathes the same air as other big, raunchy ensemble movies like “Very Bad Things,” “How to be Single,” “The Night Before” and “The Hangover.” It embraces its wild side, adds a dollop of “Weekend at Bernie’s” to take advantage of its star power and push the envelope.
The first half hours plays like a naughty comedy, giddy with the promise of a raunchy good time. The tone changes abruptly as the body lies in a crimson puddle set against the stark white tile floor. There are still laughs but they come from a different place, a nasty place that takes some of the air out of this comedy balloon. It never quite gets to the level of inspired lunacy that “Bridesmaids” found so effortlessly because it doesn’t have the same kind of heart.
It does, however, have several fun moments, both before and after the death, most courtesy of McKinnon, Bell and Paul W. Downs who plays Jess’s nice-guy fiancée Peter.
McKinnon brings a wonky Australian accent and her trademark off kilter presence to the role of the best friend from far away. She plays Pippa like a visitor from Mars not Australia, someone who tries to fit in even though she’s unfamiliar with the ways of the rest of society.
Bell, who has shone in small roles in movies like “Fist Fight,” “22 Jump Street” and “The Night Before” is given a chance to strut her stuff here. She plays Alice as the kind of loose canon who throws up on the bar and nonchalantly says, “It smells like barf here. Let’s get outta here.” She’s the comedic engine who keeps the movie from succumbing to its dark side.
It would be a spoiler to describe Downs’ contribution to the goings on. Suffice to say, it involves Red Bull, gymnastics, adult diapers and a sweet disposition.
“Rough Night” has laughs but they are mostly derived from an unpleasant situation. It’s fun to see how the dynamics of the college friends manifest under stressful circumstances but the strain they feel mirrors the strain the movies feels trying to find a consistently, funny tone.
CARS 3: 2 STARS
Five years ago, in my review of “Cars 2,” the animated adventure of anthropomorphic race car Lightning McQueen, I wrote, “The first “Cars” film was my least favourite Pixar film—until now.” With the release of “Cars 3” I have to revise that statement.
Pixar is the American master of animation, the gold standard. In films like “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E” and “Up,” to name a handful, they are wizards, able to weave a story out of pixels and terabytes about toys and other inanimate objects that make us care about them for the 90 minutes we’re in the theatre.
For me the “Cars” movies have always been the sore thumbs of the Pixar IMDB page. Wildly successful, they appeal to kids who enjoy the colourful characters, fast paced action and corny jokes, but there’s not enough under the hood. They have always struck me as fuel injected visuals with little depth in the story department.
“Cars 3” is no different.
“Cars 3’s” story sees champion racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) in the "living legend" phase of his career. An old school racer in a changing world his dominance of the track is challenged by hotshot Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), the fastest car on the circuit since McQueen. “Champ here has been a role model of mine for years,” says Jackson, “trash talking and I mean a LOT of years.” To stay in the game McQueen adopts Jackson’s new school training methods, wind tunnels, treadmills, virtual reality and a multi million-dollar race simulator, under the watchful eye of trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).
When the high-tech racing preparation doesn't work the pair seek out old timey trainer Smokey (Chris Cooper) to help McQueen find his lost mojo. In doing so they reconnect with the memory of McQueen’s mentor, Doc Hudson (courtesy of unused audio recordings of the late Paul Newman from “Cars”). Old style know-how trumps hi tech—like Rocky training on sides of beef, McQueen dodges bales of hay to increase his dexterity—which seems an odd message for a movie featuring state-of-the-art animation.
Padded with flashbacks and musical numbers to flesh out its thin story “Cars 3” feels more like an excuse to sell merchandise—the original generated more than $5 billion in swag sales—than a fully realized film. There are good messages for kids about self confidence and never giving up and the animation is terrific but it lacks the emotional punch that made “WALL-E,” “Toy Story” and “Up” so potent.
“Cars 3” brings much of what you expect from Pixar but seems to have left its heart at the junkyard. That’s not likely to affect audience reaction. The “Cars” movies have found permanent parking spots in many a family’s Blu Ray machine but for my money they belong on the used car lot.
ALL EYEZ ON ME: 3 STARS
“All Eyez on Me” presents several sides of Tupac Shakur, the iconic rapper whose life came to a violent end at age 25. Coming to theatres on June 16—which would have been the rapper’s 46th birthday—we see Shakur both as a devoted mother’s boy, a poet and gun toting tough guy accused of sexual assault.
Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr.) lived several lifetimes in the brief period he was here and the film wastes no time getting us up to speed. Director Benny Boom uses an interview led by a TV reporter (Hill Harper) to skip through the major events of Shakur’s formative years. From being raised by Black Panther leaders and auditioning to be a high school Hamlet to writing poetry and watching his parents arrested by the FBI, the film spends twenty minutes establishing the unsettled background that gave him a lasting urge to expose the underbelly of life on the street.
It’s familiar biopic device that allows filmmakers to quickly cover a lot of ground by creating vignettes based on the interviewer’s questions. Here it feels clunky and while it provides background info it does so in a perfunctory way. We get scene after scene with little real insight into what made Shakur tick.
The film improves when it drops the interview premise and keeps the film in real time. The compelling story of Shakur’s legal and financial problems and his fateful decision to sign on with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana) and west coast hip hop label Death Row Records takes up the film’s second half to better results. It is still content to offer up platitudes—“Its amazing Pac,” says manager Atron (Keith Robinson). “You're on your way.”—but by the time Shakur finds out the hard way that "there's more to this business then recording records,” the story finally finds it race.
There is a great movie to be made of Tupac Shakur’s life but “All Eyez on Me” is not it. His short but eventful life is the stuff of legend, his dual nature a fascinating character study but Boom has a rough time condensing the life of such a complex man into two hours.
Shipp Jr. (whose father produced Pac’s “Toss It Up”) bears such an uncanny resemblance to the late rapper he almost legitimises the conspiracy theory that the rapper’s death was faked. In his first acting gig what he lacks in technique Shipp Jr. makes up for in looks.
Structurally the film has problems, but the movie finishes strong with Boom doing a good job of building some tension in the final moments leading up to the fatal Las Vegas drive-by shooting.
“All Eyez on Me” is a near miss. A little depth to the storytelling could have added context to the importance of Shakur as a cultural figure. There is talk about the gap between the civil rights generation and the hip-hop era and rap music's objectification of women but neither is satisfactorily explored. The most telling line in the film comes early on when the young rapper is negotiating a record deal with Interscope Records. “There are people who want to be entertained,” he says, “and there are people who want to be heard.” It’s too bad the movie doesn’t give voice to the real spirit of the hip-hop icon.