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When 'Bad Things' Happen
To Moviegoers

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 1998

  Movie Critic

Very Bad Things
Christian Slater and friends get involved in some "Very Bad Things." (PolyGram)

Peter Berg
Christian Slater;
Cameron Diaz;
Jeanne Tripplehorn;
Jon Favreau;
Jeremy Piven;
Leland Orser;
Joey Zimmerman
Running Time:
1 hour, 41 minutes
Intense violence and grotesque profanity
These kids today. They have no respect. And in the case of "Very Bad Things," what they have no respect for is bad taste. They could give it a bad name.

The movie, which feels more like an adolescent prank than an actual film, means to tread that very delicate line between the hysterically funny and the hysterically awful. It means to preside over a transaction negotiated along the following lines: We will show you the grotesque, the squalid, the sickening, but we will make you laugh until you fall broken and spent to the earth, begging for mercy.

But it never makes you laugh that hard. Not even close. And so the thing becomes a bloody assault on the senses that commingles atrocity with tedium. It offers but a single paltry treasure in recompense: the cheery image of Cameron Diaz pounding Christian Slater's head in with a hat rack.

Basically a study in the evils of men in groups, it follows a gang of not very lovable white-collar Joes who head to Vegas for a bachelor party that will feature all those favorite boy vices – alcohol, cocaine, gambling, and sex with "cheap hotel whores," as the movie puts it. But boys will be boys, which is to say they will be bad: One of the lesser of them, a loser played by Jeremy Piven, accidentally kills the prostitute in the bathroom. When a security officer comes to investigate, he, too, is killed, with a corkscrew in the chest. He dies screaming and begging, locked in the john with the dead beauty, as vast quantities of blood merge on the porcelain floor. Oh ho, ho, ho.

The sleaziest of the men is also the most clever: Slater, as Robert Boyd, with his sharp features even more ratlike than usual, bullies the rest into agreeing to dismember the bodies and haul them to the desert for anonymous burial. That way, none of them will lose a day of career-building and networking, and the groom-to-be (Jon Favreau, as in, Why is this guy in movies?) will be back in time to walk down the aisle with Diaz.

Possibly if the violence weren't so graphic, the film would work better. But as blood-spattered as a Jacobean revenge drama, it's simply too literal to inspire much laughter. The idea of death can be funny, the suggestion of it can be funny, but the brute fact of it never can be.

The movie then watches group cohesion break down and the members turn on one another. Writer-director Peter Berg (he's an actor; no surprise) makes his biggest calculation in letting Daniel Stern try for his Oscar in this one. Stern screams, bays, whines and generally makes himself so obnoxious that his exit from the film comes far too late.

The big twist is telegraphed too far in advance: It's the discovery that as big a psycho as Slater's Boyd seems to be, there's still a bigger, stronger one lurking in the wings. And the final ending, an exercise in capital-I Irony, may not be guessable, but at the same time it's not surprising in the least.

The film seems constructed as an acting exercise, and one can see why some of Hollywood's hottest shots, like Slater, Diaz and Stern, signed up – it gives them all extraordinary moments and a chance to show a wide range of colors. Think of it as an audition tape for better things to come. That is, if you care to think of it at all.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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