Very Bad Things (review)

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Felony in Vegas

Very Bad Things is an ugly film about ugly people doing ugly things, and I am ashamed to admit that I actually kinda liked it. My own sense of humor is fairly mordant (it recently occurred to me, for example, that Phil Hartman’s untimely and unfortunate death nevertheless has saved us from ever having to sit through Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer: The Movie), but this is still the blackest black comedy I’ve ever found reason to chuckle at.

A bunch of guys celebrate the impending marriage of one of their buddies, Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau: Deep Impact), by hieing themselves to Vegas for a weekend of booze, drugs, gambling, and cheap expensive sex with hookers. They’re a collection ordinary suburban assholes, for the most part, except for Robert Boyd (Christian Slater), who is simultaneously dangerously foul-tempered and chillingly practical. When a stripper, prostituting herself for some extra cash, dies — messily, if accidentally — in their hotel room, Boyd convinces the rest of them that their best option is simply to clean up the blood and get rid of the body out in the desert. Which they do. Naturally, this is only the beginning of their troubles.
If writer/director Peter Berg (who appeared in his actorly capacity in Cop Land) hasn’t seen Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, he should. Much of Very Bad Things was done much better and much more stylishly in that older flick — in fact, the scene in which Boyd and company shop a Walmart for shovels, electric saws, and other accoutrements necessary for secret midnight burials feels lifted directly from Shallow Grave. But Very Bad Things has a few things going for it.

Berg has the kind of really sly, extremely subtle sense of humor that I appreciate. Tina, the soon-to-be-dead stripper/hooker (Kobé Tai) gets all the guys turned on with her striptease and lap dances before she disappears into the bathroom to get bonked by Michael Berkow (Jeremy Piven: Grosse Pointe Blank). How do all the other guys get their rocks off? By rolling around with one another on the floor, ostensibly wrestling in imitation of the WWF match on the big-screen TV. But intercut with Tina and Michael’s athletics, their play is extremely sexualized. What makes it funny is that you’ve no doubt that these machos jerks use “fag” as an insult and if confronted would deny any attraction toward one another.

Michael’s brother, Adam (Daniel Stern) is — barely — the voice of morality and reason among this bunch. But his sudden pangs of guilt and conscience out in the desert lead to a bleakly funny sequence of shuffled body parts and graveside prayers that is in such outrageously bad taste that I couldn’t believe I was laughing at it. But laugh I did.

The cast has a lot of fun with these reprehensible, irredeemably awful characters, especially Slater as the sociopath Boyd, who hasn’t been this interesting onscreen since probably Pump Up the Volume. And Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary, A Life Less Ordinary) again demonstrates that she has what it takes as a comedic actor as Laura, Kyle’s fiancée and psycho bride-to-be. The flip side of the annoyingly perfect Kimmy, her character in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Laura is so obsessed with her own wedding that the man she is to marry is practically an afterthought. She uses miniatures to plan the seating arrangement; she manipulates Kyle into doing her bidding by constantly asking, “Do you love me?” She earns her unhappy ending.

Not for the squeamish or easily offended, Very Bad Things is only for those of us who can sometimes find humor in very bad things.

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