Friday, May 09, 2008

"What Happens in Vegas" -- *

Sure, Tom Vaughn's "What Happens in Vegas" looked shitty from the trailers, but it seemingly also had the potential to be a kinda-fun, entertaining crowd-pleaser to serve as counter-programming to the flashy, expensive boys club of the early summer. But alas, it was not to be. Instead, making last week's "Made of Honor" seem like a cakewalk, it emerges as a really broad, dumb version of the brilliant "War of the Roses" that most succeeds at putting a bad flavor in your mouth. The thought process seems to have been to take two shrill, loud, annoying young stars, pair them together in a lame sitcom-level project and wait for the cash to pour in. The flick may, in fact, turn out to be a modest hit, but the adjectives that came to mind during it were "loud" and "shiny" more than "funny."

When Jack (Ashton Kutcher) is fired, and Joy (Cameron Diaz) is dumped, the two independently head to Vegas to forget their troubles, him with his best friend Hater (Rob Corddry), her with her Amanda Peet-clone friend Tipper (actually some girl named Lake Bell). When the two pairs are mistakenly given keys to the same hotel suite (which never, EVER happens outside of movies), Jack and Joy end up getting drunk and getting married. When they wake up the next morning, they mull over their hypothetical avenues of separation, when Jack wins $3 million dollars on a slot machine with Joy’s quarter (a plot point stolen from the underrated “Sour Grapes”). With the two arguing over how to split the money, a judge (Dennis Miller) sentences them to six months of “hard marriage” to try to work their relationship out before he will decide how to divide the money. Predictably, rather than trying to live amicably with each other reasonably for the six month period, the two try to one-up each other in making the other one miserable in a serious of mean-spirted, wacky shenanigans. As would naturally happen while two people are trying to inflict horribleness on each other, the two realize they like each other and start to fall in love.

While both leads are tremendously irritating, there is a silver lining in the fact that they're perfectly matched, so there is a modicum of chemistry. Both Diaz (so good in "Vanilla Sky," "In Her Shoes" and "Being John Malkovich") and Kutcher (so good in, er... "The Butterfly Effect"?) seem to be innately inclined to broadly overact, over-enunciating every syllable for maximum "comic" effect. As such, Jack and Joy come off as loud, annoying cartoons, and are never convincing as human beings. Diaz's appearance doesn't help matters; she's makeupped and sheened and bronzed to the point where she looks like a Muppet. While her broad comic acting in a sequence where she's supposed to be hopped up on an energy drink/powder during a business meeting is borderline-painful to watch, Kutcher narrowly wins the 'who's more irritating' contest by employing his "shouting everything like I'm delivering a punchline on 'That 70s Show'" style. Still, he fits more comfortably in his role, dumb yelling fratboy slacker, than she does in hers, uptight businesswoman, where she strains credibility. Fans of Kutcher and Diaz may enjoy themselves watching their antics on display here, but those of us who've found them tiresome time and time again will not be converted.

I had read an early positive review or two that said “What Happens in Vegas” had the feel of a 1930s screwball comedy. Bullshit. Sure, there’s non-stop physical/crude comedy, but it’s all tremendously stupid and bottom-of-the-barrel, placing an emphasis on ‘loud’ and ‘frantic.’ Aside from numerous gay and lesbian jokes, always the sign of a clever romantic comedy, we get characters named ‘Jack Hoff’ and ‘Dick Banger.’ Yeah. As for most of the other jokes, you almost can’t believe how incredibly dusty they are. OMG! His apartment’s messy! And stinky! It’s difficult to imagine anyone, no matter how lame-brained, finding jokes about men leaving the toilet seat up fresh or funny. With “Vegas,” we get our SECOND movie with a peeing-in-the-sink gag in the last two weeks. With all the broad physical humor, the movie still manages to never explore its madcap potential, and instead seems content with people yelling and getting hit by things. Though I should’ve been clued in by an early sequence of our four central characters shrieking, spraying mace while running around a hotel room running into things and falling down, my eyes only began to glaze over when Jack and Joy were racing through Central Park swinging baguettes at each other, tripping and falling down intermittently. If this all sounds appealing to you, have at it.

How loud and shrill the movie is would be less of a problem if everything wasn't so generic and by-the-numbers. There's not one original joke or emotion on display, and by the time we make it to the hackneyed, cheesy, lame "You bet on me" finale, you may want to punch someone. But through it all, the soundtrack clues you in to how lazily pieced-together this movie is, and how quickly it was rushed through the studio system (by-- who could've guessed it-- soulless, quality-less, money-grubbing 20th Century Fox). I was worried instantly, with Mika's hella-catchy "Grace Kelly" being used incongruously over the opening credits/sequence, in a desperate attempt to capture the flavor-of-the-week; it was only a matter of time before it got used in a shitty romantic comedy, I suppose. The movie also features predictable, lame uses of "We Are the Champions" and "What a Feeling," but it's not until JET's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" kicks in that it confirms its status as the most generic soundtrack ever.

And then, of course, there's the sentimentality. In a film like "The Break-Up" (which "Vegas" only superficially resembles), the balance of comedy and drama worked because the characters felt grounded in reality, AND we kind of liked them. When Gary stood up Brooke at the Old 97s concert, our heart broke with her (or at least mine did). There was a familiarity there, and a genuine attempt to define those characters and those situations. Here, when these two obnoxious cartoon character assholes jarringly shift into 'I love you' and 'you've changed me' speeches that seem like they came straight out of a parody of harlequin romances, it's completely wretch-worthy. It only hammers home how little hack screenwriter Dana Fox (who also shit "The Wedding Date" out of her vagina three years ago) thinks of us as audience members. For the first half, it's clear that Fox is desperate for as many cheap and easy laughs as she can get; for the second half, she feels the need to follow the formulaic, sentimental path to avoid challenging the expectations of her audience, just in case she risks having them remember this movie by next week.

While the movie comes equipped with a fairly strong supporting cast, it wastes almost all of them, with only one (Corddry) actually rising to the level of ‘scene-stealing.’ Corddry plays his typical supporting role—“guy who makes lame-ass movie funnier”—while everyone else seems to just either be confounded about how to thrive in this swill, or had their funny scenes deleted. Dennis Farina, as Joy’s boss, and Treat Williams, as Jack’s dad, look happy to be cast in a major motion picture again, even with nothing to do. Queen Latifah, in three or four scenes as Jack and Joy’s marriage counselor, seems to just be wondering (and evoking the question from audiences) “What the fuck is Queen Latifah doing in this movie?” Meanwhile, Miller, the unfunniest Republican around, makes the most inexplicable film appearance by an HBO host since Bill Maher in “Tomcats.” Conversely, the filmmakers should be embarrassed to put the brilliant Zach Galifianakis in their movie and not give him anything funnier to do/say than “She is so effing hot!” A scene midway through that features Galifianakis, Corddry and Kutcher does nothing but provoke the question “Which one doesn’t belong?”

Reminiscent of other, better movies, "What Happens in Vegas" is a putrid waste of time no matter how you look at it. Tone-deaf with respect to its comic moments, and ham-handed in its dramatic ones, the one positive to emerge is that it's blissfully forgettable (I highly doubt this one will make it into even the most non-discriminating sorority girl's DVD collection). I've often thought about Kutcher and Diaz's career choices in a 'chicken or the egg' scenario; do they just pick bad projects, or do they make mediocre projects more irritating by starring in them? In the case of "Vegas," at least, both factors seem to be essential to its shittiness. Sometimes the presence of sincerity can compensate for the lack of originality (or vice versa), but there's not an ounce of either present here. This movie thinks you're dumb, and is banking on you proving it with your dollars this weekend.


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