Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Very Bad Things

By Marc Savlov

NOVEMBER 30, 1998: 

D: Peter Berg; with Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jon Favreau, Jeremy Piven, Leland Orser, Carla Scott. (R, 101 min.)

Chicago Hope's Peter Berg hangs up his scrubs in favor of the director's chair and ends up with more blood on his hands than a whole season's worth of television dramatics. He also ends up helming one of the nastier black comedies to come down the pike in some time, though calling this mess a "comedy" cheapens the term in the extreme. Newlywed-to-be Kyle Fisher (Favreau) finds himself on the receiving end of the karmic Louisville Slugger when he and four of his closest, most masculine buddies take off for a weekend bachelor party in Las Vegas. Along for the ride are brothers Michael and Adam (Piven and Stern); shy, withdrawn mechanic Charlie (Orser); and scheming real-estate weasel Robert Boyd (Slater), a man so devoid of scruples he makes Michael Milken look like Michael Moore. Against the better wishes of Kyle's fiancée Laura (Cameron), the guys shack up in a swank Vegas casino and spend the first night binging on liquor, cocaine, and, eventually, a high-priced call girl. Although Kyle nixes the traditional sleep-with-the-hooker idea, Michael has no such qualms and leads her into the bathroom, where, after a drunken game of "spin the hooker," she meets her grisly end when her skull accidentally fuses with a towel rack. Panicked and wasted, the quintet decide (under the wild-eyed tutelage of Robert) their best shot is to bury the poor girl in the Nevada desert. Unfortunately, before they can get their act together, hotel security drops by and leaves them, eventually, with another corpse. After a vaguely disturbing scene in which the boys load up on such high-desert incidentals as chainsaws, shovels, and gore-proof slickers, the deed is done and they return home to a life forever changed. Once back, both tempers and paranoia flare as their plan begins to unravel, and more corpses begin to make appearances. Through it all, Kyle and Laura staunchly march on toward their appointed destiny in holy matrimony, while all else is reduced to chaos and bloodletting. Ostensibly a cautionary tale of how very bad things create lasting mental impacts on those involved, Berg's film instead plays out like Laurel and Hardy directed by Sam Raimi with a hangover. The comic moments revolve almost exclusively around pain and violence and degradation, and though that may work well enough in more cerebral films (the Belgian Man Bites Dog comes to mind), here it's simply too much of a very bad thing. Slater is particularly disturbing as he plays the moral black hole and mindless drug Hoover, while Cameron steadfastly acts as though she's on the verge of a full-scale panic attack. There is a line between gallows humor and tastelessness, but Very Bad Things apparently doesn't have a clue where that might be.
.5 stars


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