"I'm not buying any of the BS you two are selling today."
- Dr. Twitchell
It was the last straw. After enduring 50 minutes of shouting and pitiful posing by the detestable characters in What Happens in Vegas--a lazy and uninspiring effort, as tired as the overused slogan the city long abandoned in favor of a fresh alternative--I finally snapped when Cameron Diaz had the nerve to "sing" a Pat Benatar classic in the bathtub: "Blah blah blah blah blah, hit me with your best shot, fire away!" Smirk and overact all you want, but butcher the Queen of Rock?! Oh no she di-int!
The movie was officially dead to this reviewer, making it impossible for me to care one ounce for the last half hour, when some actual humanity enters the story and performances (as Benatar would sing, a little too late!). Diaz plays Joy, her own persona magnified--like the entire movie--to the Nth degree (it's a name I imagine she was given simply so Ashton Kutcher could utter the line: "She's awfully hostile for a girl named Joy" ). She's a structured Wall Street drone who decides to head to Vegas with bitter friend Tipper (Lake Bell) to prove she can let lose and be spontaneous after getting dumped by her fiancé.
Meanwhile, man child Jack (Kutcher, also playing a blown-up version of himself) shirks responsibility and commitment, getting fired from his job by his daddy boss. He heads to Vegas with bitter friend Stephen Hater (Rob Corddry) to forget his troubles. Jack and Joy meet and clash, but alcohol brings them together for a sordid night followed by the morning after, when they realize they got hitched. More fighting ensues, and when Jack wins $3 million at a slot machine using Joy's quarter, the two are forced to work on their sham marriage or the judge will make sure they never see a dime of the winnings. So Joy moves in to Jack's apartment and tries to rough it (if you had to sit through this the first time--when it was called Just Married--it's almost unbearable).
What follows is a cheap mash-up of The War of the Roses and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, where the two try and annoy each other--and the viewers--into submission (they win!). But guess what? Jack and Joy start to realize they actually have feelings for each other (*gasp*)! But the first hour is so tortuous, it falls on deaf ears. The script, characters and performances are so mean spirited, lacking any intelligence or wit. Every performer here thinks they're being cute and clever as they shout insults at each other, trying to get by on good looks, charisma and snarky facial expressions. It's like watching an awful Spring Break reality show on MTV, where immature sex pots get drunk and annoying (Diaz yells "Wooo!" a lot, something I've seen her do plenty of times).
The banter is equally juvenile, and feels like it was written by a junior high drama class. Just listen for any exchange between Tipper and the appropriately named Hater, who lash out at each other without an ounce of originality: "Your buddy wouldn't know a good time if it sat on his face!" "Stripper, you are kind of a disgusting skank!" Multiply that by a million and you have the first hour of the movie (that passes for a screenplay?!). The two second fiddles are walking cancers, failing to illicit one real laugh the entire way through (Tipper talks about her desire to give Joy's ex a "cock punch up in his junk").
And when it doubt, throw in jokes that call the guys' sexual prowess into question ("I know how hard it isn't!" Oooh, *snap*!), or blame a woman's bitchiness on her menstrual cycle--an awful joke that the writers actually felt the need to explain (!):
- Jack: "I want to apologize for her...for three weeks out of the month we get to enjoy God's most precious creation, and on Week 4 the bill arrives."
- Desk Clerk (laughing): "I know what you mean...period, right?"
And when still in doubt, just call someone gay, the worst insult known to humankind! I was stunned at the constant homophobic jabs dished out by both sexes. After yet another dig (with Hater trying to embarrass Tipper: "This is my lesbian sister. Tell her about your softball game!"), I looked around my living room, thinking "What did I do to offend this movie?!" The judge (a very tired-looking Dennis Miller) also jokes about killing his wife ("There are days when I want to light her on fire, but I don't because I love her") when he isn't helping the homo cause: "Gay people aren't destroying the sanctity of marriage, you people are!" (uh...thanks?).
There's also Chong (Michelle Krusiec), a cold, angry Asian woman who works with Joy, one of many throwaway roles--which include Jason Sudeikis playing the exact same character he has on 30 Rock (when breaking up with Joy, he tries to ease the sting by complementing their sex: "I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the things you've tried with my balls") and Queen Latifah as a therapist so smart, she totally sees through their ruse!
Everything in the first hour is a loud, black-hearted hole of bitterness, and this is coming from someone who appreciates smart asses and sarcasm--when done well. What Happens in Vegas is a shrill ride: The scene where the two sets of friends meet for the first time is an obnoxious scream-fest that looks like Improv 101. There's no chemistry between Diaz and Kutcher when they're fighting mean, unless Diaz commenting on the "sweaty ball sac flavor" of her popcorn makes you chuckle.
Three "wise" lines of dialogue--meant to signify the lessons the characters learn about themselves--creep up later in the story as light bulb moments for the characters. The second round of each line is delivered with the subtlety of a Vegas hotel sign: each is preceded by a pause and recited in slow, dramatic fashion so that we "get it" ("I would rather do nothing and be happy than do something I don't love!").
The film is like a long pilot for a lame sitcom, starting with an achingly obvious half-hour set-up and ending with a trite, Three's Company-like hurdle the lovers have to overcome. In between, we get a glimpse into how incompatible men and women are: "Marriage is hard!" whines Jack. "Men and women are not meant to co-exist!" (Jack won't put the toilet seat down...oh, will he never learn!). Director Tom Vaughan gives us an unending amount of jump-cut conversations, where Jack and Joy talk with their buddies about the same problem to form one piecemeal conversation--resorting to editing tricks to try and jazz up the telegraphed plot.
Diaz and Kutcher are both talented. I have nothing against them, and it's clear they're having fun playing off each other. And I don't have a problem buying into the film's exaggerated sense of reality...but I do have a problem buying into its utterly awful first hour. Your Vegas is showing, guys...and it's not pretty.
This "Extended Jackpot Edition" runs two minutes longer than the separate theatrical edition release. In the audio commentary, we learn what most of the extra footage is, and it's nothing memorable: the bulk comes from a scene where Joy asks Jack to come to her company retreat (around the 1:06 mark). Also added is brief footage in the park with the couple and Jack's parents; Diaz getting up on stage at a company function near the end; and extra exchanges between Jack and Dave the Bear (Zach Galifianakis) near the end. The filmmakers also make it sound like there could be extra party footage at Jack's house, and one short sequence between Chong and Joy's boss (Dennis Farina) may be new. The commentary points out some dialogue changes, like Sudeikis saying "butt" instead of "balls" in his early quote.
The disc provided for this review was a screener, so I'll refrain from comment on the preliminary 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, although there were no major problems.
I'll also refrain from evaluating the audio track on this screener disc. The film is available in a 5.1 English track, as well as French and Spanish Dolby Surround. Subtitles are also available in French and Spanish.
Leading the way is an audio commentary with director Tom Vaughan and editor Matt Friedman. It's a very dry, technical effort that lacks any energy, surprising for a film that's supposed to be "fun". The two discuss the tight 46-day shoot, and talk a lot about how they played with the sequence of scenes (there was a lot of shuffling and re-shoots), and how they added some dialogue in during post to lower confusion (and make some scenes less mean, a result of test screenings). Friedman notes there was a lot of ad libbing throughout the film (the original cut was 2 hours and 10 minutes, and lots of footage they mention doesn't show up anywhere). They also talk about the music choices and the challenge of the location shots in the always-busy Vegas (the hotel shots were done at Planet Hollywood).
Up next is Sitting Down with Cameron and Ashton (8:15), a conversation between the two stars in a hotel room on the Strip. The two once again fall back on their charm to try and sell this fluffy piece that repeatedly shoves the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" motto down our throats. Most of the conversation revolves around the differences between men and women in picking up the opposite sex, while Diaz also tries to explore the inner working of Kutcher's character: "He's such a dick. He's a total ass, and he smells." Thanks!
DVD Extra Time with Zach Galifianakis (8:08) is a "fake" interview that has the stand-up comedian interviewing Vaughan. It's like the anti Chris Farley Show, with Galifianakis frequently insulting the director (there are many jabs about Vaughan's English roots: "I can get you deported easily"), exhibiting an overall air of disinterest. It's not funny, much like the bogus commercial From the Law Firm of Stephen J. Hater, Esq. (2:25). Just in case you didn't get enough laughs about homosexuals, this extra has Corddry offering his legal services to gay people so they can get a divorce ("I want to exploit your loopholes...we're here, we're queer, and we want 60 percent of your assets!").
A gag reel (5:04) is actually more of an improv reel, with the likes of Dennis Miller, Corddry and Galifianakis offering alternate takes. Diaz flubs a few lines (and shows off a commode mouth), resulting in a few laughs. Six deleted/extended scenes (7:55) don't feature much new material; none of them would help the film. You also get a handful of trailers for other films, while a second disc houses a digital copy of the movie.
Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher play amped-up (i.e., annoying) versions of their own personas in this bitter battle of the sexes. Despite more restraint and some humanity in the last 30 minutes, the first hour of the film is an unbearable experience. The shrill beginning is marked by screaming and mean-spirited, witless dialogue, with the performers trying to rely on good looks, charm and sarcastic body language to sell the story. For many of you, the last half hour and the smiles of Diaz and Kutcher may be enough to warrant a rental. For me, the bulk of the film is an MTV Spring Break show dialed up to the Nth degree--an exhausting, exaggerated exercise of cruel behavior that will just serve to raise your pulse in anger. Close call, but Skip It.