You know those lazy Sunday afternoons when you’re laying on the couch with nothing to do, playing TV channel roulette, just hoping to land on one of those special movies that you’ve seen dozens of times and can’t not watch to the end once you land on it?
Well, that recently happened to me and it got me thinking that as a writer for a movie site I have an opportunity AND A DUTY to right a major injustice and pay tribute to movie that never got the respect it deserved. A movie that was panned by critics at the time, yet 16 years later is still quoted and loved by many people (that don’t have sticks up their asses). A movie that taught us that the concept of “true love” can exist between siblings long before Elsa and Anna. A movie… that is the best Emilio Estevez movie not starring Emilio Estevez.
That movie is 1998’s A Night at the Roxbury.
With 90’s nostalgia in full swing, now seems like the perfect time to revisit this underrated comedy gem. Unfortunately, when brought up, it’s usually unfairly lumped in with the likes of It’s Pat and Stuart Saves His Family instead of its rightful place next to Wayne’s World.
For those that aren’t familiar, the movie is based on a Saturday Night Live sketch revolving around two douchebags who cruise around, stop at various clubs, and attempt to dance with women. I use the term “dance” very loosely since they have exactly two moves in their wheelhouse: 1) their signature move which consists of nodding their heads to the side to the beat of the music and 2) trapping an unwilling woman between them and wildly gyrating (similar to what is now commonly known as twerking) Oh, the most important part. The sketches were always set to “What Is Love” by Haddaway, possibly the most 90’s-song of all-time, which has since become synonymous with the characters. Anyway, here’s an example:
The two guys get names in the movie: Steve (Will Ferrell) and Doug (Chris Kattan) Butabi. You might ask, are they brothers? The answer is no… YES, of course they are! Steve and Doug still live at home with their parents (Dan Hedaya and Loni Anderson). They even share a room despite the fact that they live in a mansion with many rooms.
By day Steve and Doug work at their dad’s (extremely successful) silk flower store. But they live for the night, hitting all the hot clubs, except that is, for one: the Roxbury, where they just can’t get past the ropes. It’s not for lack of trying as they attempt to get in every night, but the Roxbury is the type of place where you either to be on the list or be a big celebrity like Richard Grieco. As fate would have it, Doug and Steve run into Grieco himself! Actually, he runs into them, with his car. Fearing a lawsuit, Grieco agrees to get the guys into the Roxbury and they soon find themselves having the greatest night of their lives, hobnobbing with the club’s owner Mr. Zadir (Chazz Palminteri) and even pitching him their own ideas for future clubs. They meet a couple of hotties that are actually willing to dance with them, in a fully choreographed routine no less!
What’s happened to choreographed dance routines in movies? Bring them back!
It’s the perfect night and the guys finally feel like they’ve made it. But then the sun rises and everything begins to fall apart.
The main problem that’s plagued SNL-based movies is that what often works in a five minute sketch doesn’t transition well to a feature-length film because the joke is one-note and making the same joke, funny as it may be, over and over grows tiresome after awhile. This was the main criticism of A Night at the Roxbury, but I’m calling bullshit on that. The screenplay, written by Ferrell and Kattan along with SNL writer Steve Koren, does a great job of fleshing out the characters and creating their world which expands far beyond the basic punchline.
While the sketches portrayed the two as unlikable assholes, in the movie they are stupid yet lovable losers with a childlike innocence.
When they dramatically rub their noses, it’s not because they just did coke, but rather because they saw some “cool” guy rub his nose in similar fashion and are imitating him hoping to look cool too. With the ladies, they know every pick-up line in the book (pretty sure they own an actual book full of pick-up lines), but have no idea what to do next when they actually get the opportunity. They love sucking on Fluffy Whip cans but are not familiar with the term whippet. They’re endearing in a Dumb and Dumber kind of way and you can’t help but root for them.
This was back in 1998 before Will Ferrell became the A-List star he is today. It’s fun to go back and watch him in his first starring film role. It’s easy to see why he has since become such a huge force in comedy. He commits fully to his character, as does Kattan, who didn’t fare quite as well as Ferrell in the fame department, though I’m still holding out hope for a major Kattan comeback.
Mango was the shit.
Fellow SNL castmate Molly Shannon is hilarious as Emily, the girl next-door with an ulterior motive. She delivers one of my all-time favorite movie lines. (“Shut up Craig, I’m walking down the aisle, you dick!”) The rest of the supporting cast is loaded with familiar faces including Dan Hedaya, Chazz Palminteri, Colin Quinn, Jennifer-Stiffler’s Mom-Coolidge, the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan, and a young Eva Mendes in her first movie role.
Of course there is Richard Grieco, who deserves a beer of his own for playing along and being able to laugh at himself a little. It’s too bad Emilio Estevez wasn’t able to as well. In a 1998 interview Will Ferrell revealed “We wanted to end the movie with Emilio Estevez coming to the door, but he declined. Emilio didn’t have as good a sense of humor, is what I’m trying to say. Our other idea was that we’d have Charlie Sheen walk in the door, and we’d keep saying, ‘Emilio!’ But that didn’t work out either.”
The comedy is an enjoyable mix of slapstick, in-jokes (Cheers fans will surely laugh out loud at one gag), and parody. It’s all a lot smarter than originally given credit for. That’s not to say it isn’t goofy as hell, but that’s what you want in this type of film and it delivers. It’s just plain fun. It’s the type of movie you can watch over and over and never get tired of.
Finally, the music is spot-on. It’s that glossy, euro-techno dance music that if you were old enough to go to clubs in the 90’s (or had a fake ID good enough to get into a club in the 90’s) will no doubt bring on the nostalgia.
You know what? I cancel this beer. I originally thought, I can’t possibly give A Night At the Roxbury the highest honor that is bestowed upon excellence in film-making but fuck it, I’m leaving this one as a Toast because I love this silly movie and I can’t find anything to criticize. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do and that is to be funny and entertaining. So go ahead and sue me like I just rear-ended you with an illegal imported sports car.
I can’t understand why this movie gets such a bad rap. It holds its own and stands the test of time just as well as similar 90’s buddy comedies Wayne’s World and Dumb and Dumber. So stop calling it one-note! It has many wonderful notes. They go like this: dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah…WHAT IS LOVE?
I’m still crossing my fingers for a sequel that catches up with the Butabi brothers in present day.
I mean, come on, it writes itself!
Take a Drink: every time “What Is Love” plays.
Take a Drink: at every “Whats up?”
Take a Drink: every time the brothers get rejected.
Take a Drink: whenever they tell the Emilio story.
Take a Drink: at every sexual innuendo Emily makes.
Take a Drink: every time Craig talks about protein bars.
Take a Drink: at every movie spoof. Two for a Cameron Crowe movie.
Take a Drink: whenever Mr. Zadir accuses someone of grabbing his ass.
Do a Shot: every time you spot someone that was in Clueless.
Fun Fact: Did you know in addition to Emilio Estevez, the original script had cameos by John Travolta, Bob Saget, Gilbert Gottfried, and Ellen DeGeneres? You can check it out here.