Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Very Bad Things" has some nastily funny moments but goes too far

Very Bad Things (1998) 
100 min., rated R.
Grade: C

Black comedy is in the eye of the beholder. That's the case for "Very Bad Things," an increasingly absurd, sometimes nastily entertaining, but thoroughly mean-spirited and scabrous black comedy of errors. 

Kyle, the henpecked groom (a boring-since-"Swingers" Jon Favreau) of demanding bride-to-be Laura (Cameron Diaz), and his four suburban frat-boy buddies, Boyd (Christian Slater), Jewish brothers Adam (Daniel Stern) and Michael (Jeremy Piven), and quiet Moore (Leland Orser), are off to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. To cap off the wild night of gambling, boozing, and drugging, they hire a stripper/hooker to come into their hotel room. But the scene turns ugly real quick when, after a little wall-banging sex, she ends up dead, on accident of course, from being impaled on a towel hanger. Don't you hate it when that happens? The brains behind the operation is slightly insane Boyd, who suggests they cover up the body ("a 105-pound problem") rather than call the cops. As the wedding approaches, the five friends find themselves turning on one another which only snowballs more crimes. 

Actor Peter Berg must've been hunting for a mordant shock comedy worthy of Quentin Tarantino when given the chance to shoot his first gig. "Very Bad Things" certainly lives up to its savagely twisted promise of edgy, really-black comedy, but when it comes to murder, dismemberment, and other immoral violence, the line is crossed to ugly horror. Giggly discomfort has its limits. Berg more than crosses the boundaries of good taste; he breaks and demolishes them. His own hand-written script has an unashamedly take-no-prisoners approach, which is bold for a mainstream comedy like this, but the characters are such a hateful lot of macho jerks that they deserve their just desserts. In fact, hardly anybody is left standing by the end credits. 

The whole cast works hard, but sometimes the histrionics grow weary. Piven is such a manic bomb that he looks ready to detonate, and Stern is histrionic and irritatingly squirmish as the family man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But Slater and Diaz stand out with the most bite. Slater does another smirking, psychotic Jack Nicholson impression with that gleefully devilish twinkle in his eye, almost as if he's playing an all-grown-up version of his J.D. from the other death-obsessed comedy "Heathers." And Diaz is in determinedly shrill bitch mode as the wildly stressed-out bridezilla who will not let a few dead bodies in her wedding party stop her from having her wedding. But she's a nut-cracking hoot, on the flip side of her perfectly perky Kimmy in "My Best Friend's Wedding," and actually earns the movie's loudest laughs. 

"Very Bad Things" isn't without some shockingly out-of-control surprises, especially the hilariously bloody Wedding From Hell at its climax, but ultimately, laughs are disposed into body bags. Now that's a very bad thing. 

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