[This is the first in an intermittent series of posts where I revisit movies that I loved when I was younger. I’ll be exploring whether they are as good as I remember them to be, or if my fond recollections are merely nostalgia rearing its ugly head.]
There’s a plot hole big enough to drive a car through at the beginning of Peter Berg‘s Very Bad Things. It would be an easy enough thing to overlook, but since the entire plot of the film hinges on it, I found I couldn’t get it out of my head. This is the story of five friends, well, acquaintances really, who head to Vegas for a bachelor party and manage to get in way over their heads. It all starts with the accidental death of a stripper who, inexplicably, shows up to the party without a body guard (seriously?), and ends up dead on the bathroom floor. The party-goers’ attempts to cover up her death leads to more and more of the same, paranoia sets in, and eventually, it’s every man for himself. It’s pretty well the opposite of The Hangover, where everyone stayed focused on the singular goal of finding their lost friend in time for him to make his wedding. Whereas that film shows that no obstacle is too large that it can’t be overcome by teamwork, this is more of a value lesson in why it’s important not to surround yourself with people of questionable moral character. They will, in the end, always drag you down to their level.
When this movie first came out, I was 28 and found the dark humor to be hilarious. I’d been a fan of Christian Slater since Heathers, and he’s playing much the same character here, sort of a Gen-X Jack Nicholson. At the time, I was on the verge of getting married, so I was especially drawn to the interplay between Jon Favreau and Cameron Diaz, the soon-to-be-married couple. They seemed like they really loved each other and would do anything to ensure their wedding went off as planned. After re-watching it though, Diaz is still great as a bride with her own bit of a dark streak, but Favreau is lackluster. He seems to just be tolerating her presence most of the time and there is zero chemistry between them. I wonder how they ever got together in the first place as he seems to spend most of the movie being condescended to by her. Slater is good, though not great, as Favreau’s best man, a self-help aficionado who delights in delivering such lines as:
“If you take away the horror of the scene, take away the tragedy of the death, take away all the moral and ethical implications that have been drilled into your head since Grade One, do you know what you’re left with? A 105-pound problem that needs to be moved from point A to point B.”
He is, of course, talking about burying the dead stripper in the desert. The problem with that reasoning, and with this film in general, is that it’s impossible to remove those concepts from life’s situations. They are part of what makes us human. Anyone who is able to look at life without regard to how actions affect others is, by definition, a sociopath, and someone wholly unworthy of our empathy. Good films, though, require at least one character we can identify with to allow us entry into the narrative. This one, unfortunately, has none.
[Very Bad Things is available on DVD and Netflix.]