A Night at the Roxbury (1998)




My favorite soundtrack for kitchen work is a genre of music I like to call “Gay 90s”. Long forgotten pop acts like La Bouche, The Real McCoy, Snap!, and C&C Music Factory are great motivation for a stressful service industry shift & I’ve been relying on them for moral support a great deal lately. That’s why it felt like an appropriate time to revisit A Night at the Roxbury, a sublimely dumb comedy about a pair of club-hopping airheads who survive on a strict diet of tacky suits, Gay 90s club music, and bad cologne. I have fond memories of this movie from when I was a kid & I’m sure I’m not alone there, but it’s far from the universally loved Saturday Night Live-related properties like Wayne’s World or Tommy Boy or even the recent cult-inductee MacGruber. It’s tempting to say that the film was way ahead of its time, given how much costar Will Ferrell’s comedic stylings have become part of the cultural zeitgeist in the last decade (while Chris Kattan has been left behind & forgotten), but the truth is that the movie is so 90s it hurts. If you squint at A Night at the Roxbury the right way it can be seen as a Step Brothers prototype with a much  healthier family dynamic, but I’m not sure  that prescient element is strong enough to overshadow how much of the film is mired in 90s SNL & Gay 90s dance music – two things I happen to love very much.

The problem a lot of SNL sketches-turned-movies have is that they have no idea how to establish a sense of purpose. Recurring SNL sketches can sometimes feel stretched a little thin at two-to-five minute intervals, so the idea of sustaining these properties for full-length film can often be disastrous. A Night at the Roxbury is off to a worrisome start when it recreates its SNL sketch origins in its entirety in the opening two minutes of its runtime . . . which then leaves the question of just what the hell it’s going to do with the remaining 80. You can’t just build an entire film around two gross club rats bopping their heads to Haddaway’s “What is Love?“, right? The film provides some necessary background information its protagonists were missing, like a name (The Butabi Brothers), jobs (they work at their dad’s “fake plant store”), short-term goals (getting laid), and longterm aspirations (opening a dance club where the outside looks like the inside of a typical club & vice versa). There’s also a little tinkering with the sketches’ basic premise, where the brothers imply that they’re cokeheads & bimbos, by making them out to be wholesome virgins. For the most part, though, A Night at the Roxbury succeeds in expanding its limited origins by structuring the plot as a traditional love story. It just so happens that the love is shared between two brothers instead of two potential sex partners.

Of course, the film is more commendable as an irreverent comedy & a 90s time capsule than it is for its narrative strengths. From the brothers’ voguing-while-driving tendencies to the beach butts to Dan Hedaya (the dad from Clueless) playing a father figure to a throwaway line about “dancing The Macarena with Donald Trump”, the movie is an incredibly inclusive collection of the era’s trashiest calling cards. There’s also some completely purposeless irreverence in humorous details like washed-up actor Richard Grieco’s role as washed-up actor Richard Grieco and in random asides like the line “Yeah, yeah, yeah Joanie Loves Chachi, but does Chachi give a flying fuck about Joanie?” What’s most impressive, though, is how these elements are mixed into an oddly sad platonic love story about two over-primped buffoons who desperately want to pick up women but don’t know at all how to interact with them on a personal, intimate level. In that way, considering all of A Night at the Roxbury‘s irreverent humor, 90s time capsule charms, and oddly sad platonic love story the movie works kinda comfortably as a masculine equivalent to Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, another comedy that’s earned a lot of goodwill simply through the passage of time.

As far as the film works as an onscreen version of Gay 90s Dance Music: The Movie, it’s pretty much everything I wanted it to be. La Bouche & all my old friends were there, including a bunch of hit-makers I had completely forgotten: No Mercy, Ace of Base, Amber, etc. There’s also six instances of Haddaway’s “What is Love?” playing in the film (once as elevator music), which felt like the perfect amount, considering how essential it was to the comedy sketch source material. The next time I’m jamming at work to LaBouche or The Real McCoy I’ll now have a very specific set of images to accompany the music, as well as a pretty easy to nail head-bob dance move. I couldn’t have asked for more.

-Brandon Ledet


6 thoughts on “A Night at the Roxbury (1998)

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