How low can she go? That’s the question in the soft vanilla comedy “Rough Night,” about five women who blunder into disaster over the course of a carousing bachelorette weekend. If you’ve seen “The Hangover” and its sequels or various other movies of this familiar ilk, you have more or less seen “Rough Night.” There’s even a movie titled “Bachelorette,” another would-be laugh-in about friends who go crazy — snort, snort, snort, chug, chug — until they’re put back on the path toward happily ever after.
In “Rough Night,” Scarlett Johansson stars as Jess and is nearly eclipsed by Kate McKinnon, who plays one of her pals. A politician who’s about to get married, Jess is on the verge of losing a state senate race to an opponent who has pulled ahead with some Anthony Weiner-esque penis pictures. That a competent female politician can’t compete with literal penises suggests that the filmmakers have some ideas in store, something, say, that mines the comedy of our new Neanderthalism, an age partly defined by the reinvigorated war between the sexes and the triumphant rise and occasional fall of male members.
No such luck. The director Lucia Aniello, who wrote the script with Paul W. Downs, soon abandons any pretense that she is going to deliver more than goofs. Instead, she trots out clichés, including a flashback that shows Jess and another bestie, Alice (Jillian Bell), holding their own at a frat blowout. Here, partying hard is meant as a stand-in for equality, which is mighty low stakes on which to build a gender-flipping comedy. Nonetheless, Ms. Aniello barrels ahead with limp penis jokes, yuks and a little upchuck, throwing in a starry guest appearance and the requisite slow-motion wolf-pack shot of the women strolling in a line, an image so stale it’s an entry on tvtropes.org.
It’s all blithely formulaic and would be more irritating if the performers — who include Zoë Kravitz and Illana Glazer — weren’t generally so appealing. (Ms. Glazer is a star of the Comedy Central show “Broad City,” which Ms. Aniello and Mr. Downs also both work on.) The actors are playing types, not people, but most bring enough natural presence and good will to fill in their characters’ sketchy profiles. It helps, too, that Ms. Johansson and Ms. Glazer are gifted physical performers who can sell weak jokes, though no one steals a show like Ms. McKinnon, a brilliantly versatile comic who reaches Madeline Kahn-levels of eyeball-rolling, eyeball-popping and all-knowing dementedness.
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