VERY BAD THINGS
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
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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