movie review by
Gary Johnson

Very Bad Things


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Very Bad Things continues Hollywood's recent infatuation with violent comedy. However, There's Something About Mary looks like a sweet romantic comedy compared to this new entry in the despicable-is-funny sweepstakes.

For the record, I loved There's Something About Mary and its over the top approach to comedy. However, Very Bad Things is as ill-conceived a movie as I've ever seen. As the movie's title tell us, you'll see some truly awful things happen in this movie--and the filmmakers expect you to think they're funny. In There's Something About Mary, a dog ends up in a body cast after leaping out a window--that's pretty awful--but it's funny because the filmmakers push the visuals to comic-book extremes. In Very Bad Things, however, the visuals carry the rush of an alcoholic bender. For example, in the scene that initiates the plot, the camera swings through a Las Vegas bachelor party as the participants guzzle booze, snort cocaine, and fondle a stripper. The camera doesn't passively record the events: it insinuates us in the action and asks us to have fun watching the guys in action.

And then the nightmare really begins: one of the fun-loving party boys accidentally smashes the stripper's head against a spike on the bathroom wall (you've gotta watch those spikes in Las Vegas bathrooms!) and she dies immediately. What should they do? Call the police and risk jail time? Or should they smuggle her out of the hotel and bury her in the desert? What's a bachelor party to do?

Christian Slater steps forward as the group's leader, and at his insistence, they decide to hide the body. He even kills a security guard who stumbles upon the scene of the crime. This is funny stuff, huh? Apparently, it's supposed to be so bad, so extreme, that it becomes funny, but director Peter Berg has no idea of how to approach this material. In There's Something About Mary, the Farrelly Brothers adopted a tone somewhere between the Three Stooges and the Looney Tunes. In Very Bad Things, Berg mixes Diner with Reservoir Dogs. For example, when the boys are prowling the local hardware store for cleaning supplies and grave digging equipment, Berg's camera captures them in slow motion splendor as they swagger down the center aisle--as Tarantino did for his crew of bank robbers in Reservoir Dogs. As Tarantino loves his bad boys, so does Berg love his bad boys. However, Berg eschews the dark knight's sense of honor at the core of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) in Pulp Fiction and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) in Reservoir Dogs in favor of nothing nothing at all. This huge moral emptiness at the heart of his characters is supposed to be funny--especially because Berg ultimately deals out punishment to everyone involved. But this also has the effect of making his characters complete boors. In GoodFellas, director Martin Scorsese made us laugh at some pretty awful events--as when Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta dig up a body that they buried several months previously; however, when Berg offers a similar joke in Very Bad Things the comedy lacks a target. The joke is the same one over and over: look how awful, stupid, and spineless these guys are.

Near the end of the movie, the filmmakers finally find a target for the comedy. At this point the movie acquires a wicked satirical edge as Cameron Diaz will do anything to make sure her wedding ceremony runs smoothly. She even smashes in a man's face with a coat stand. In these scenes, the movie begins to acquire some of the camp surrealism of John Water's Serial Mom; however, it's far, far too late to save Very Bad Things.

Even with a highly talented cast that includes Jon Favreau (of Swingers), Daniel Stern, Leland Orser, and Jeremy Piven, Very Bad Things quickly deteriorates into an irritating, noisy mess. This is an astonishingly bad movie.

[rating: 0 of 4 stars]