A Night at the Roxbury

The 1998 comedy A Night at the Roxbury is decidedly not a film I would have chosen to watch left to my own devices, but I watched it with a friend at her urging because it’s one of her favorite comedy movies ever.

It’s a Will Ferrell movie, and actually I don’t turn my nose up at Ferrell. Based on the modest amount I’ve seen of him, I’d probably rank him somewhere around the middle of comedians I’ve seen in my life, so a film with him in it is not by any means a “must-see” for me, but nor would I go out of my way to avoid it.

I didn’t realize until I spent a few minutes reading about the film after the fact that it’s an expanded version of a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch. (I probably watched 80% of the episodes of Saturday Night Live with the original cast, and have seen five hours or less cumulatively of all the decades of the show since then. So I’m not familiar with much of anything from that show after 1979 or so.)

Ferrell and Chris Kattan play two loser brothers whose father (Carla’s ex-husband Nick from Cheers, who was always a hoot in his infrequent appearances on that show) desperately wants them to grow up to take over the family business (an artificial flower shop). This leads to constant disappointment on his part and conflict between him and them, as they show zero inclination to go along with his wishes, or to do much of anything else that requires being grown-ups.

Instead, they are obsessed with going to discos at every opportunity to dance and pick up girls. Despite all the practice they get at this lifestyle, however, they’re completely unsuccessful at it. The women they hit on always reject them. Any club with high standards—most notably the Roxbury, their personal Mecca that they are obsessed with—won’t even let them in the door.

Through serendipity they bumble their way into a relationship with Richard Grieco (playing himself—I infer he’s a famous actor; I’m confident I had never seen him or heard of him in my life before this), and eventually bumble their way into pretty much having the life they had always dreamed of, though not before a series of misadventures and even a temporary rupture between the two brothers who had up until then seemed maximally close.

The two brothers, by the way, look nothing like each other, nor, for that matter, does either look anything like either of their supposed parents. Perhaps that’s part of the humor; I don’t know.

But I couldn’t buy them as brothers, actually for reasons beyond the lack of resemblance. Their dynamic just doesn’t feel like brothers to me, like two people raised in the same household. The feeling I get from their interaction is, I’d say, gay lovers number one, or close friends number two. Brothers would be at best a very distant third.

I didn’t get many laughs from this movie, but here and there it has its moments. The Nick from Cheers guy isn’t quite as good here as his classic Cheers character, but there’s still something consistently funny about him.

There’s a scene where Grieco takes the Nick from Cheers guy aside, and by patiently, considerately, sympathizing with him, and by citing his inherent understanding of all aspects of the human condition based on his status as a celebrity, is able to calm him down, explain to him how important it is to allow his children to grow up in their own way and follow their own dreams, and ultimately reconcile him with his sons.

For some reason, that scene tickled me more than any other in the movie. There’s just something about how confidently he appeals to his being a celebrity as making him self-evidently wise on all matters, and the way the previously no-nonsense, tough, stubborn dad immediately thoroughly accepts that notion that I really got a kick out of.

Beyond that, yeah, for the most part A Night at the Roxbury is a dumb comedy, and the movie’s a thumbs down for me. These brothers are not remotely as funny as the “wild and crazy” Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin Czechoslovakian brothers, who similarly obsessed over chasing down foxes in clubs, and even that recurring SNL sketch was not worthy of a feature-length film (which they had the good sense to realize).

Still, it’s nothing terrible. I actually thought it was a cute little comedy in its way, and like I say there’s a little bit here and there that’s at least mildly amusing. So low are my expectations for this genre of comedy movie (whatever exact genre this is) that my guess is this movie deserves to rank somewhere around the middle of such films.

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