Mar 23, 2015

Review: A Night at the Roxbury (1998)

I can't tell you how many times it's happened where people around me have referenced A Night at the Roxbury and I couldn't do anything else but smile and pretend to go along with it. I had never seen the movie before and all I knew about it from the jokes was that it had some scenes with Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell bobbing their heads to the side to "What is Love" by Haddaway. Oh, and I've been familiar with this Bill Gates/Steve Ballmer "thing" for quite a while. I was just glad that I could finally be in on all the Night at the Roxbury jokes, even if I'm a bit late.

A Night at the Roxbury is one of several Saturday Night Live sketches that were adapted into feature length films. Besides ANatR, the late 90's seemed to be a particularly fertile time for SNL movies with four released films from 1998 to 2000. Only ANatR ended up being profitable and only slightly. It would take another ten years before another SNL sketch-based film came out and MacGruber just wasn't the answer either.


Genre: comedy
Directed by: John Fortenberry, Amy Heckerling
Produced by: Amy Heckerling, Lorne Michaels, Robert K. Weiss, etc.
Written by: Steve Koren, Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan
Music by: David Kitay
Running time: 82 minutes
Production company: Paramount Pictures, SNL Studios
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures, United International Pictures, National Broadcasting Company, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $17,000,000
Box office: $30,331,165 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Loni Anderson, Dan Hedaya, Molly Shannon, Dwayne Hickman, Maree Cheatham, Lochlyn Munro, Richard Grieco, Kristen Dalton, Jennifer Coolidge, Meredith Scott Lynn, Gigi Rice, Elisa Donovan, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Quinn, Twink Caplan



Yemeni-American brothers Steve (Will Ferrell) and Doug Butabi (Chris Kattan) are hardcore clubbers who dream of getting inside the mecca of all nightclubs in Los Angeles, the Roxbury. If they ever want to open their own club comparable to the Roxbury, it's absolutely necessary that they actually get in first. Fed up of working for their bossy father (Dan Hedaya) in his artificial flower shop, the Butabi brothers vow that this will be the time they're finally let in.


Even at a scant 82 minutes, there's no denying that A Night at the Roxbury stretches its material Reed Richards thin. I can see the Butabis as being very good subjects for a series of sketches, but it's asking a lot to make them the center of a feature length film. Most of the jokes are of the Butabi brothers being either stupid or ignorant which is the kind of thing that can get pretty old.

But you know what? There's something that's completely infectious about A Night at the Roxbury. Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan have some pretty good brotastic chemistry going on and while I'll admit there's not a whole lot going on in ANatR, I had a pretty good time. There's a lot of dancing and head bobbing and maybe a bit too much slapstick humour, but it all works relatively well. Well enough anyway to make me want to bob my head along with the Butabi brothers every time.

I can't lie that the humour is mostly hit or miss though. While what works and what doesn't depends completely on the person, for me personally I give a small margin advantage for the hit side. A lot of the humour is pretty childish though and the dumb bravado of the Butabis can only go so far. For me this is all about the comedic performances of Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan who give it their all as well as all the music scenes. 

There's actually a surprising amount of special appearances from actors like Loni Anderson, Richard Grieco and even Michael Clarke Duncan (???). Probably best of all though is Molly Shannon who does her best impression of a psycho female dog. It's not a particularly demanding role for her, but having Molly Shannon there is simply an example of good casting. She's an SNL alumni too which is nice.

The story isn't really anything to write home about. It sticks to a familiar narrative and has a pretty predictable outcome. Did anyone really expect something more though? This is an SNL sketch movie after all. It doesn't need to be deep or complex. The main goal here is to be funny and A Night at the Roxbury succeeds in doing that relatively well.

By tomorrow I'll probably have forgotten the story of A Night at the Roxbury. That really doesn't matter though because what will still be with me is Will Ferrell and Chris Katten dancing to "What is Love" again and again. Certain songs become synonymous with movies such as Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" with Rocky III and "Goodbye Horses" with Silence of the Lambs. It's the same thing with "What is Love" which will forever be associated with A Night at the Roxbury. In fact, "What is Love" IS A Night at the Roxbury.



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