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Very Bad Things

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Very Bad Things

Starring: Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz
Director: Peter Berg
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: November 1998
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Daniel Stern, Jon Favreau, Jeremy Piven, Leland Orser, Jeanne Tripplehorn

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When Bobby Burns advised that the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley, he did not mean his caution to be taken as literally as director Peter Berg, writer and director of "Very Bad Things." This madcap adventure that veers unsteadily from farce to horror and back again may be considered pointless by some, but it has all the markings of a comedy of manners. In fact if it were written in England during the reign of Charles II, it would fit in handily with a company of restoration comedies and would probably have a more lyrical title such as "A Hooker Hook'd." Its present awkward title notwithstanding, "Very Bad Things" is a most entertaining piece, one with an edge that so many Hollywood creations still lack in their efforts to please everybody with celluloid variants of elevator music. Its ending, a payoff which Mr. Berg thoroughly earns from careful foreshadowing, is a stunner, the very antithesis of the feel-good windup that the studios contrive all too often in order to please an uncritical audience.

Like other comedies of manners whose aim is to send up the hypocritical gentility of the moneyed classes, "Very Bad Things" lampoons the pretensions of a group of young people whose ages run from twenty-seven to about thirty-five, some of whom are ensconced in high-income jobs in brokerage houses and the real estate game while another, a comely lass, is of uncertain profession but obviously from a prospering family. With a wedding about to take place between Kyle (Jon Favreau) and Laura (Cameron Diaz), the two sides with their friends and associates make busy with plans that make sense only because of rituals which are imbedded in the culture of their social classes. That their plans go horribly amiss as do so many such foolish designs is the very essence of writer Berg's premise. For her part, Laura has absorbed the middle-class notion that a wedding celebrates the most important day in a woman's life. She is obsessed with getting every last detail correct, from the way the guests' chairs are padded to the cleanliness of the ushers' fingernails. For his measure, Kyle is agreeable to the bachelor party which his friends have planned for him, though he appears not especially enthusiastic at first. He'll go along for the ride if only because he's good-natured enough to comply with the rules of his society.

"Very Bad Things" is notable for its sheer variety of images, which roam from an erotic dance by an gorgeous Asian stripper whom Salome would envy to the gruesome vision of a hotel bathroom whose walls are so bloodied that-- as one young man notes--the place looks as though the Manson family had lived there for a month. The story, which moves forward relentlessly, takes flight as Kyle heads by car from an L.A. suburb to Las Vegas with his friends Robert (Christian Slater), Charles (Leland Orser), Michael (Jeremy Piven) and Michael's contentious and tightly-wound brother Adam (Daniel Stern). They gamble, drink, snort coke, and best of all enjoy the lap dancing of a stripper who has been hired for $900. When a turned-on Michael agrees to pay the exotic dancer an extra $500 for a go in the hotel bathroom, he accidentally impales her on a hook in a moment of passion, killing her instantly. After Robert literally screws an investigating house security guard with a bottle opener, they agree to cover up the two crimes by packing the dismembered corpses in their luggage and burying them in the Nevada desert.

When it comes to murder, two killers is a crowd. No way is this group of five friends to go about their daily routine as though nothing more than a last stab of a groom's freedom had occurred. The weak link is Adam, the guy whose conscience makes cowards of them all. Engaging in a round of nervous mini-breakdowns over his guilt as an accessory, he becomes the catalyst for a series of cataclysms that brings the quintet's latent hostilities to the surface and results in an additional pileup of bodies.

In their individual ways, Slater and Diaz are the showstoppers here, with the current star of the Broadway drama "Side Man" acting as the leader of the his quincunx of quidnuncs. Interceding at several points to calm down the two hyper brothers played by Daniel Stern and Jeremy Piven--who have been probably been sibling rivals from Day One--Slater emerges from this blood-splattered orgy as an off-the-wall fury determined to cash in on the very murders he strives to cover up. An episode of martial arts combat with one newly-established widow (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn) proves a gem of film editing that would please Jackie Chan, while the blood-soaked comeuppance on a wedding-hall stairwell recalls and exceeds the terror of a comparable scene Bryan Singer's "Apt Pupil." While Cameron Diaz's stunning suburban California countenance never deceives us (she is a forceful bully determined to walk down the aisle by any means necessary), we can still register shock by the revenge she unleashes on one man who stands in her way.

Despite a final scene that combines pathos with flat-out ghoulish hilarity, it's not likely that "Very Bad Things" will deter women from demanding their budget-busting aspirations to be queen for just one day in their lives. Nor will the macho sex surrender their God-given right to enjoy themselves for one last time before the fateful march down the matrimonial corridor. But thanks to Peter Berg's unswerving objective to draw ever-moving battle lines in the Nevada sand and California silt, "Very Bad Things" flourishes as a genre-bender whose untenable scenes are oddly believable.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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