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VERY BAD THINGS

by: Scott Renshaw

The film's title offers too easy and convenient a bon mot. Expect cadres of critics to be trotting out innumerable variations on "VERY BAD THINGS is one of them," though it's both a cheap analysis and an inaccurate one. VERY BAD THINGS isn't a very bad movie. It's a very good idea approached from entirely the wrong perspective.

The idea involves that most cynically macho of American matrimonial institutions, the bachelor party. The groom-to-be is mild-mannered Los Angeles cubicle-dweller Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau); his fiancee is Laura Garrety (Cameron Diaz), a woman only slightly obsessed with her nuptial details. The boys' night out is to be an overnight in Las Vegas including Kyle's four best buddies: mile-a-minute real estate hustler Robert Boyd (Christian Slater); family man Adam Berkow (Daniel Stern); Adam's edgy brother Michael (Jeremy Piven); and reticent mechanic Charles Moore (Leland Orser). Though the party begins with the expected drinking, drugs and bare breasts, it ends with the unexpected problem of a dead prostitute on the floor of their hotel room bathroom. That sets off a grotesque chain of events, as the friends' attempts to cover up one death lead to one death after another.

Beneath the macabre, over-the-top situations surrounding the deaths in VERY BAD THINGS is a savage satire of stereotypical gender responses to impending marriage. Kyle watches in a passive daze as Laura orchestrates the ceremony from overture to finale; Laura plows over Kyle's every hesitation with a fiercely muttered "Do you love me?", focusing so completely on getting married she seems oblivious to the idea of being married. The horrific events in Las Vegas become a steroid-injected version of more mundane bachelor party naughtiness, with the bachelor turning the "very bad thing" into both a source of guilt and a potential excuse for getting out of the marriage he fears. To Laura, it's all just one more logistical glitch to be overcome, with Diaz turning in a frighteningly funny vision of a woman whose wedding will not be spoiled by anything.

Diaz nails the proper tone so completely (particularly in the film's final act) that you may suddenly realize what's been so wrong with the rest of the film. While Diaz plays Laura entirely for absurd laughs, the male cast members range from one extreme to another. Slater plays Boyd as too sinister to be funny, Stern and Piven play the brothers Berkow as too genuinely tormented to be funny, and Favreau plays Kyle as too dull to be funny. For much of VERY BAD THINGS, the script by Peter Berg (better known from his role on "Chicago Hope") is simply a plot in motion, pulling the characters along with it. At times there's not even exaggerated humanity in the reactions of the characters, the kind that would have given a more humorous spin to more scenes. For a film that could have and should have been a dark comedy, VERY BAD THINGS is too much like the menacing morality play of SHALLOW GRAVE.

That kind of tone is going to alienate a lot of viewers, particularly as the situations grow increasingly extreme and gruesome. Though VERY BAD THINGS ends with a hilariously horrifying subversion of suburban domestic bliss, it doesn't given you enough reason to stick around for it. Comedy can still work when it's caustic, but at some point a film-maker needs to understand that he has to keep an audience laughing at material this dark to keep them from walking away. VERY BAD THINGS is a great opportunity wasted, and that's the real very bad thing.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 final flings: 5.

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