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Very Bad Things
Peter Berg's 1998 directorial debut Very Bad Things is not quite a very bad film, but it certainly comes close. This mostly unfunny dark comedy sees mild-mannered office drone Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) set to marry stuffy bridezilla Laura Garrety (Cameron Diaz). His boys, including Robert (Christian Slater), brothers Adam (Daniel Stern) and Michael (Jeremy Piven), and Charles (Leland Orser), take him to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, much to Laura's chagrin. Before the night is over, a local hooker and hotel security guard are dead in Kyle's room and a symphony of repeated bad decisions has just begun. Berg also wrote the screenplay, which certainly feels like a late ‘90s product, but most of the jokes fail to land smoothly. In the end, Very Bad Things becomes a crass, meandering bore despite its frequent violence and depravity.
Diaz is kind of funny in early scenes. She plays an absolute pain in the ass fiancé, nagging Kyle about every little thing. As he is set to depart for Las Vegas, Laura calls in a panic because the wedding chair supplier refuses to provide the ordered hardware. Kyle promises he will take care of the chairs before he returns home the next day, in what surely must be the shortest bachelor party ever. The night initially goes fine, and the guys gamble and party before returning to the room. They pay Tina (porn star Kobe Tai) to come strip for Kyle, but Michael ends up screwing her in the bathroom. That would be fine, except he accidentally kills her by smashing her head into a bathroom fixture. Things unwind quickly from there, as Robert goes nuts when a security guard arrives and finds the body, stabbing him to death and convincing the others to take both bodies to the desert and bury them. From there, the friendships begin to unravel in a spectacularly violent fashion, as the pressures of their Vegas hangover follow the men home.
Berg was initially known for his acting, but has matured into a respected director, counting successful films The Rundown and Lone Survivor among his catalogue. This movie is purposely abrasive and hard-hitting, and it moves aggressively between scenes. At 100 minutes, the film manages to feel both exhausting and overlong, as Berg cannot maintain the manic energy that begins in Vegas. The film is shot in a flat, ‘90s punk style, with plenty of loopy pans and quick edits. Once the men start unraveling due to mounting legal and moral pressure, they turn inward and begin blaming one another for their recent troubles, which results in more violence. While I admire Berg's decision to allow the men to receive exactly what they deserve, I wish the journey had been more entertaining.
The movie does not falter due to the acting, which is actually decent. Unfortunately, the characters mostly yell at each other, and only Kyle receives any true introspection. The diverse, entertaining cast elevates the material somewhat, but the film rarely moves above slapstick humor and its crass dialogue. Critics like Roger Ebert hated the film upon its release nearly 22 years ago, and Berg responded to the criticism by telling the premiere audience, "If this movie hits you, hit it back." Sure, we can do that, but I am not sure it is worth the effort for this uneven, dated dark comedy.
Speaking of dated, this 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is obviously culled from an old, pre-HD scan. The image is often flat, and colors are somewhat washed out. Edge halos are occasionally present, and I noticed more than a few shots where DNR appears to smooth over details on faces and in environment textures. That's not to say detail is terrible, as there is actually quite a bit of decent scenery here, but the entire presentation has a dingy, recycled feel. Black levels are mediocre, skin tones are dull, and contrast is middling. This image has not seen much TLC, and it shows.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is better, and at least provides some nice support for the rapid-fire dialogue and effects pans. The popular music selections are a bit anemic, but environmental noise and some action effects make good use of the surrounds and subwoofer. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are English SDH subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release arrives in a standard Blu-ray case with two-sided artwork. Released as part of Shout! Factory's "Shout Select" line, the disc offers a couple of new and recycled extras: You get an Audio Commentary by film critics Witney Seibold and William Bibbiani, which is actually interesting; a newly shot Interview with Actor Jeremy Piven (17:23/HD) in which he discusses the shoot and anecdotes from the production; a new Interview with Daniel Stern (21:00/HD), with similar anecdotes; a Still Gallery (6:54/HD); and the Theatrical Trailer (1:15/SD).
This one did not move me, despite it trying really hard to be edgy and aggressive. Peter Berg's directorial debut, a dark comedy in which murder and mayhem begin in Las Vegas during a bachelor party and follow a group of friends home, is in your face for sure, but it winds up a surprisingly lackluster and uneven comedy. Shout! Factory's new Blu-ray offers a dated image, decent soundtrack and a few new extras. Even so, my vote is to Skip It.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.