Anybody who's seen her host SNL or was able to peel their eyes off of Joseph Gordon Levitt's biceps in Don Jon knows that Scarlett Johannsson can be a brilliant comedian. I don't often have the opportunity to work "marble columns" into a day's conversation but if I can find a way, I will, and I will always and forever be amused. Sadly it's a skill she's not been called on to use much in her Big Movie Star Career, where the dudes making the movies have more often than not preferred to make like Isaac Mizrahi and grab her by the boobs instead.
But like that infamously awkward moment (which actually gets tweaked here with a terrific sight gag for those paying quick attention) she's taken it in stride and come out on its better side (its under-boob?) - 16 years after Ghost World she's as good as she's ever been and more popular than ever, and so she gets to headline a Big Dumb Comedy in the mold of The Hangover (a movie starring Bradley Cooper in 2009, the same year he also starred in He's Just Not That Into You opposite... wait for it... Scarlett Johannsson.)
And as a chance to hang out with ScarJo, being goofy alongside a goofy gaggle of game gals (sorry my alliteration key got stuck for a second there), Rough Night often delivers. Its best moments are the ones where it lets slide its need for 80s-era plot mechanisms (Diamond thieves? Really?) and just allows Johannson and Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz and Jillian Bell and of course the current world's greatest scene-stealer Kate McKinnon, to be free as their freaky selves can be, riffing on joyous nonsense like they do. There's one bit of physical comedy from McKinnon in particular, momentarily suffering from a high-larious bout of brain damage, that had me in my own sort of stitches.
But the plot, a melange of Very Bad Things and Weekend at Bernie's dolled up in Bachelorette party dresses, does get in the way, mostly because the multiple strands keep feeling unformed and discarded. The ideas are there but the follow-through keeps trailing off, like a drunk in a doughnut factory, leaving a string of half-gnawed crullers in their wake. Delicious for them maybe, but kind of frustrating for us to stare at for almost two hours. Finish the damn doughnut, son!
And to bring it full circle, in the bad full circle kind of way, Johannsson is sadly, and atypically, the weak link - in the immortal words of Tyra Banks I was rooting for her, we were all rooting for her, but she approaches the material tepidly, nervously, and I think it might be that inclination that keeps the film from flying off its hinges like it really needed to. Everybody else was certainly game but Scarlett keeps biting her lip and tripping over every gag, playing a straight man's idea of The Straight Man - her self-conscious performance erases much of the stakes of shaking off the serious person shackles and the night, for all its murder sex and mayhem, ultimately feels about as rough as a single Appletini too many.