'Vegas' Hits the Jackpot

Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz tie the knot, then tie themselves in knots over money in
Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz tie the knot, then tie themselves in knots over money in "What Happens in Vegas." (By K.c. Bailey -- 20Th Century Fox Via Associated Press)
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By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 9, 2008

Yet more evidence that the end of the world is near: Ashton Kutcher is about to become a major movie star.

It hurts all of us, I know, but my generation worst of all. As we settle into dotage and senility, do we need to be reminded how at 20-something he married one of the most beautiful women of our generation (Demi Moore), how before he was 30 he became a household name and produced a hugely popular show ("Punk'd"), how he is loved and adored by just about everyone?

(On the good news front, at least there's this: Like all golden lads must, he, too, will turn to dust.)

Not that "What Happens in Vegas" is any kind of great movie, but it's an exceedingly bright comedy that never makes you feel stupid for enjoying its brisk pacing, smart lines, sound construction and superb comic acting, not only from the annoyingly accomplished Kutcher but from Cameron Diaz and well-chosen No. 2 bananas Rob Corddry and Lake Bell.

The gimmick is at least as old as "The 39 Steps": The plot invents circumstances by which two attractive people, who hold deep aversions to each other, are linked (by handcuffs either actual or, as in this case, metaphorical) and must contend with all kinds of dilemmas. You know what happens next because you understand how perfect they are for each other long before they do.

The waggle worked in this variant (by screenwriter Dana Fox) is that Kutcher and Diaz, each having suffered a crushing disaster (she: dumped; he: fired), have gone to Las Vegas for some healing. They meet one drunken evening, and they have Olympic-quality sex. Alas, either before or after or, God help us, during -- they also get married. Okay, no big deal, time for a quickie divorce, no harm/no foul, except -- here's the waggle -- she gives him a quarter, he feeds it into a slot machine and they win $3 mil. Who gets it? Why can't they just split it? (Because there'd be no movie, obviously.) Greedily, each tries to get the whole pot, and an irritable judge (Dennis Miller at his snarkiest) sentences them to live together, man and wife, for six months. The judge sets rules as well, so that it is to each's advantage to get the other to break them.

Thus the movie is a pas de deux -- or would that be a mano-a-womano -- in which two people try to goad each other into subverting the marriage arrangement.

The best thing about the fight is how unfairly each wages it, and how the campaigns are based on the classical fault lines of boy-girl cohabitation. That one about the toilet seat (it always has to be down?): The movie addresses it in a clever scene in which Diaz's Joy McNally tries to explain the fundamental difference between the deep concepts of "up" and "down," as if she's explaining quantum theory to a chimp, which she basically is. It's a terrific little set piece, particularly for the expression on her face, which is an odd blend of pity, contempt, boredom, irritation and loathing, all without destroying the fact that she's staggeringly beautiful.

His Jack Fuller retaliates by taking the seat, then the lid, and finally the door from the bathroom. It's that kind of movie: All's fair in love and greed.

Some workplace chicanery comes into play, too. She's a Wall Street trader, trying for a big promotion, competing against a ruthless Asian adversary (detract 20 points for Lucy Liu-style cliche, so unnecessary) while he's struggling to hold a job as a custom furniture builder for an extremely picky boss (Treat Williams).

As is customary to the genre, each has a pal, a kind of doppelganger couple that interacts in a kind of shadow parody of the main relationship. In this case, "Daily Show" grad Corddry -- so awful in "Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" -- is extremely funny as Jack's friend Hater, the worst lawyer in the world, while Bell goes deadpan as Joy's friend Tipper.

But the real pleasure in the film comes from the two stars, both of whom put vanity and narcissism far behind, and are pleased to let the movie deploy them as less than noble, less than capable, less than smart, less than selfless and less than beautiful and, therefore, more than human, even if alarmingly young.

What Happens in Vegas (99 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content, profanity, language and a drug reference.

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