"Rough Night" is no "Hangover," while "Cars 3" retains the franchise's oh, so modest appeal.
Hollywood can’t shake the “Hangover” from that 2009’s film’s shocking success.
Since then we’ve had two mediocre sequels plus a gaggle of films straining to duplicate the original’s bawdy tone. The latest film cloned from “Hangover” DNA?
Yes the film’s storyline pilfers the plot from 1999’s “Very Bad Things,” not the Bradley Cooper smash. Old chums reunite, hire a stripper and someone ends up dead.
So why are we rooting for the “Rough Night” characters to do a perp walk?
Scarlett Johansson leads a strong female cast playing Jess, an aspiring politician who joins her college friends for her bachelorette Party.
That means a night of drugs and drinking with Bernie Sanders-loving Frankie (Ilana Glazer, “Broad City”), high strung Alice (Jillian Bell) and Type A Blair (Zoe Kravitz). They join Jess’ chum Pippa (Kate McKinnon and her lousy Aussie accent) for a reunion to remember.
Only they end up killing the male stripper hired to cap off the night. Accidentally, of course.
From there it’s an uneasy mix of “Weekend at Bernie” sight gags and virtue signaling. The latter is mostly supplied by Glazer, railing against police brutality and the one percenters. She’s only funny when her fellow radicals call her out for having a smart phone.
FAST FACT: “Rough Night” co-star Jillian Bell got a crucial boost to her career when she landed a part on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
The screenplay, from co-star Paul W. Downs and director Lucia Aniello (“Broad City”), is alternate wan and wobbly. We’re told Jess is losing in the polls because her male opponent’s “dick pic” is getting a gazillion retweets.
Cute, but we’re not buying it.
A few original concepts stall the vulgarity parade. Jess’s beau (Downs) stages a stuffy wine tasting as his bachelor’s party. His cultured chums make Alan Alda look like Rambo. They’d have to watch all three “Expendables” movies just to become gender neutral.
Downs’ subplot packs promise all the same. He attempts to reunite with Jess under odd circumstances. Too bad the screenplay deteriorates into a series of “hey, everyone’s gay” moments that feel too woke by half.
Some “Rough Night” jokes land with a thud. Others arrive with potential but sloppy editing reigns supreme. Early on, the women open a bottle of champagne in the airport, and everyone flinches at the gun-like sound the cork makes.
Then, the characters literally explain why it got that reaction. How dumb do they think we are?
Later, Jackie tries to get a cab driver’s attention by telling him her water broke. Only she’s not pregnant. Huh?
Two cast members try their best to bring the laughter. Bell is one funny lady, but her character quickly wears out her welcome. She’s grating, and the dialog she’s handed does her no favors.
McKinnon has it worse.
The comic who nearly saved “Ghostbusters” is fiercely funny and inventive … everywhere else. Her “Rough Night” character never seems like a real person. it’s hard to believe McKinnon gets so much screen time and never makes us laugh.
A few chuckles and shocks sneak in all the same. That leaves us with a quintet of fairly unlikable ladies trying to save their skin. We might care if one of them gave a second’s thought to the dead stripper. Or they made us laugh a few times while collectively gazing at their navels.
HiT or Miss: “Rough Night” offers a few mild laughs and a shock or two. It’s hardly worth suffering along with these insufferable characters.
Here’s a Hollywood lesson that isn’t shared enough. You never play the Nostalgia Card when you aren’t holding a full house. Or even three of a kind.
You can stage all the “Firefly” and “Friends” reunions you want, and fans will come running. Don’t try doing the same with “Cop Rock” or “Joey,” though.
It’s a lesson the wizards at Pixar should have heeded while drawing up plans for “Cars 3,” the latest film in the thoroughly pedestrian franchise.
Owen Wilson’s back as Lightning McQueen, the car whose false bravado has faded like an Obama/Biden bumper sticker over time. So it’s dispiriting to see him get crushed on the race track by Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).
He’s the new kid on the racing block, and he’s got moves Lightning can’t quite match. Is this the end for our perennially bland hero? Or can a series of training sessions ignite his dormant skills?
The second sequel introduces us to Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), a car trainer who dreams of crossing the finish line herself one day.
Savvy adults will probably guess what happens next. Suffice to say the storyline stops cold over and again to remind us of past “Cars” adventures. Sorry, guys and gals. This isn’t the “Toy Story” franchise. Even the new film’s homage to the Hudson Hornet, brought to life again by Paul Newman, can’t gin up much interest.
FAST FACT: How did the creative team behind “Cars 3” bring the late Paul Newman back as Doc Hudson? They recorded tons of Newman banter during the first film’s production and had so much material left over they crafted new scenes based around them.
That’s a shame since the film is nothing if not ambitious. Lightning McQueen is staring down retirement, wondering if he can leave the game on his own terms. That’s something 99.9 percent of kiddies can’t relate to, but their parents sure can.
Yet that’s where “Cars 3” stalls.
The dialog never crackles. The jokes are as bland as our hero’s personality. And even consistent laugh getter Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) isn’t around enough to save the day.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with “Cars 3.” It offers some empowering messages, no inappropriate material and an assembly of fine vocal stars. Looking for anything else? You might wait for the next original Pixar yarn.
HiT or Miss: Families won’t mind the inoffensive charms of a third “Cars” feature. Adults will cheer the mature themes while stifling a series of long, toothy yawns.