Due to a misunderstanding at the craps table, Judge Paul Pritchard is no longer welcome in Las Vegas.
"You know what? I can get a couple guys to go to his place, knock on the door, and when he opens it wham! We junk-punch him in his man business, and he'll fall to the floor crying "why?!" and then we'll say "you know why!" Huh?"
With a worldwide gross of over $200 million, What Happens in Vegas has been a resounding success at the box office. Having seen the movie, the question has to be: How the hell did that happen?
Facts of the Case
Hailing from New York, Joy McNally (Cameron Diaz, In Her Shoes) has just been dumped by her fiancé. Since she lives a work-oriented life, Joy decides the time has come to let her hair down and take a trip to Las Vegas with her best friend Tipper (Lake Bell, Boston Legal). Soon after arriving in Vegas, the pair bumps into fellow New Yorker Jack Fuller (Ashton Kutcher, The Butterfly Effect) and his best friend and lawyer Hater (Rob Corddry, Semi-Pro) following a mix-up with their rooms.
Joy soon discovers that, like her, Jack is in Vegas to get over a personal crisis—in his case being fired from his job. Finding some common ground, the four friends head out for a night of debauchery in Sin City. Come the morning, the ramifications of their excesses are revealed: Jack and Joy got themselves hitched, and both want out. Quickly agreeing they will have the marriage annulled, the two are happy, until Jack wins $3 million on a slot machine…using Joy's dollar.
When the ownership of the winnings becomes the subject of much dispute, the pair, on their return to New York, takes the matter to court. However, the judge decides that a simple annulment and splitting the winnings won't do. Tired of people desecrating the sanctity of marriage, he demands the couple make a genuine attempt to make their relationship work. For six months the pair must make a go of things, while attending counseling sessions. Determined to claim the money outright, both Jack and Joy do their uppermost to outwit the other, and take the money outright.
My biggest problem with What Happens in Vegas is that its neither bad enough to totally condemn, nor good enough to recommend; it's just kind of, meh (though it definitely errs on the side of bad). To be fair, What Happens in Vegas does try to make your mind up early on, with an opening 30 minutes that almost exclusively consists of non-stop shouting matches between Ashton Kutcher, Cameron Diaz, Lake Bell, and Rob Corddry (two of whom you'll know, one you'll recognize, leaving you with an unfamiliar face who actually turns out to be the best part of the movie).
Seemingly aiming for the same ground as the Farrelly Bros.' Fever Pitch (a.k.a. The Perfect Catch, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are), What Happens in Vegas takes what would normally be classed as a chick flick and attempts to make it acceptable for men to watch. Unlike the aforementioned Fever Pitch, What Happens in Vegas is so obtuse that any of the refinements of the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore collaboration are lost in a sea of gay jokes, shouting, childish behavior, and shots of Ashton Kutcher pissing in the sink. Okay, that last one is actually funny, especially when accompanied by the line: "Oh yeah, this is really happening. Oh, and it's your day for dishes," but the rest grows tiresome very quickly. Instead of setting the framework for a relationship to be built upon, What Happens in Vegas wastes too much time focused on verbal sparring between Diaz and Kutcher, juvenile pranks, and one-upmanship.
As the film progresses, Dana Fox's screenplay decides that a little character developments is required, and that maybe, just maybe, filling your film with such repugnant, selfish characters will fail to endear them to your audience. Sadly, subtlety is not a strong point for What Happens in Vegas, even when trying to add depth to its characters. We get god-awful lines like: "I did take myself out of the game. If you stop betting, you never have to lose." The poor dialogue isn't the main problem, though, for as clueless as it is and as unappealing as these characters are, there is never a shadow of doubt as to the film's final outcome; meaning a reading of the synopsis is all that's required to work out how things will end up. Never mind that these characters are so self-centered, that the thought of either of them putting anyone else before themselves is difficult to take; they'll do whatever the story demands of them, no matter how unnatural that may feel.
Perhaps the film's problems lie in its non-committal stance. As a comedy, it aims for gross-out and outrageous, but lacks the conviction to go much further than Ashton Kutcher emptying a bowl of popcorn into his pants. As a romance, so much time is spent with Diaz and Kutcher at war with each other that, bar the occasional loving glance, the romantic angle feels tacked on.
Due to the lack of empathy felt towards the characters in What Happens in Vegas; what would otherwise be mere niggles become prime examples of the film's flaws. An example, you ask? Sure. The film contains a subplot that involves Joy's push for promotion at work. During this segment, what we shall refer to as Caddyshack rules apply. Despite working at the New York Stock Exchange, it seem that the more outrageous Diaz acts, the more her boss warms to her. It seems that the funniest and coolest employee is what the boss has been looking for all along, and that, having your partner loudly refer to your boss as "Dick Banger" is sure to make you popular with the firm's board. No matter that her colleague is far more suited to the job. On a similar note, the judge's decision that neither Kutcher nor Diaz shall touch the $3million winnings until they have shown a genuine attempt to make their marriage work seems to hail from the school of movie logic rather than having any basis in reality. Perhaps if actors of the caliber of Rodney Dangerfield (Natural Born Killers) and Ted Knight (Caddyshack) had been involved, the film's more over-the-top antics and logic-defying situations would have been more palatable.
Commenting on the cast is a little trickier than judging the film itself. Both Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher are capable of better: in Diaz's case (as witnessed in Being John Malkovich), much better. Yet here they insist on overplaying their roles, turning into caricatures of real people, with every line delivered at one thousand decibels in a vain attempt to mask the lack of quality in the jokes with sheer volume. Both actors retain their likeability, but on this occasion, earn themselves a thumbs-down. The support players fare little better. Lake Bell, as Joy's gal pal Tipper, is tasked with playing the stereotypical best friend, whose sole purpose seems to be to clash with Rob Corddry's Hater. Corddry plays Jack's best friend with a certain aplomb; although the material he's given doesn't appear to be pushing him, he does manage to be the most likeable character in the movie.
Director Tom Vaughan (Starter for 10) turns in an unremarkable film; though financially successful, it's an artistic graveyard that does nothing to make him standout from the crowd.
The screener copy reviewed had a colorful 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer. The picture was consistently sharp but, as with all Fox screeners, is hampered somewhat and is not fully indicative of the final product hitting shelves.
Extras on the disc, ranging from a bland commentary to deleted scenes, are just taking up disc space. They provide nothing new and really offer little incentive for prospective viewers. Following the nausea-inducing "Sitting Down with Cameron and Ashton" fluff piece, the one worthwhile extra presents itself. Though not as funny as it would like to think it is, "DVD Extra Time with Zack Galifiankis" features an irreverent Zack Galifiankis interviewing director Tom Vaughan. Following the latest trend in DVD Extras, the retail copy of What Happens in Vegas also contains the option of downloading a digital copy of the movie to play on your PC, PS3, PSP, or portable media player of choice.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are just enough moments, such as Kutcher's interesting take on doing the dishes, to make What Happens in Vegas watchable.
Equally, when things finally begin to settle down and the tit-for-tat antics cease, Diaz and Kutcher are allowed to let their naturally charming personalities show. By this time it's really too late to save the movie, but it's probably enough to make What Happens in Vegas worthy of a rental, as long as there's nothing else on your rental list that week.
What Happens in Vegas made a ton at the box office and will probably do well on DVD, but I have to question how much of its success is due to the pulling power of its two leads. At the end of the day, the film is just too nondescript to make it worthy of a recommendation, and that's taking into account it introduced me to the term "junk-punch."
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