What Happens in Vegas should have stayed, not in Vegas, but elsewhere in the state of Nevada. How about in those mountains where they are supposed to keep the nuclear waste?
With its array of hit-the-crotch gags (including one buried in the credits) and gross-out humor, this new comedy is both weird and unpleasant, like having a hangover without a party.
She (Cameron Diaz) is uptight and over-scheduled. He (Ashton Kutcher) is a beery lout in a T-shirt with empty cans of suds all over his filthy apartment. Though they don’t yet know it, they have a lot in common: they’re both clichés.
When she gets dumped by her fiance and he loses his job as a carpenter, both head to Vegas from New York City, where they live, to drown their sorrows. Yours, however, are just beginning.
Instead of dreaming up an interesting way for these two to meet, the blazingly awful script by Dana Fox simply puts Jack (Kutcher) and Joy (Diaz) in adjoining hotel rooms in which they and their best friends (Rob Corddry for him, Lake Bell for her) wind up walking into the same bathroom. Cue much girly screaming and hitting.
Everyone gets drunk but Jack and Joy wake up married. They decide this is a bad idea and resolve to break up — until Jack takes one of her quarters and drops it carelessly into the slot machine she was playing. Bam, he wins $3 million, which she claims is at least partly hers.
The plotline is neon-obvious from here on, with nothing resembling a twist. (It was just four years ago that dueling lawyers Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore went boozing, woke up married, and tried to escape each other in Laws of Attraction, but that was a totally different movie: their partying took place in Ireland.)
When the pair get back to New York to ask for an annulment, a judge (Dennis Miller) annoyed by their bickering instead threatens to tie up their winnings in litigation and orders them to stay together as man and wife for six months while reporting regularly to a couples therapist (Queen Latifah).
A stale plot is a stale plot, but it could be spritzed up a little with some breezy jokes or winning personalities. Instead, when the pair move in together, each trying to force the other to leave the marriage and the jackpot, they subject each other and the audience to deep unpleasantness that never comes close to being funny.
Feeble battle-of-the-sexes premises that were worn out by hack standups 30 years ago (women take too long primping, men leave the toilet seat up) leads to creepy situations such as Jack drugging Joy’s drink, dropping her flat on a wooden floor from chest height, scratching his crotch before reaching in her bowl of popcorn and urinating in his own kitchen sink. That’ll teach her.
The dialogue seldom even reaches the level of attempted jokes; for the most part the characters simply toss around aging slang (“You go, girl!” “Don’t get your panties in a bunch”) and other stock expressions (“Welcome to my humble abode,” “What brings you to Sin City?”). There are many attempts to be raunchy or disgusting that wind up being merely strange (“I’m gonna buy you a big box of Tampax,” “I threw up in my own purse”) and lazy insults (“Hey, don’t get hit by a bus. Or, do. Whatever.”)
As they speak, the actors are aware that nothing they’re saying is funny. They try to make up for it with wild gesturing or face-pulling or flat-out yelling at each other. Try to make sense of why someone thought this exchange was worth writing down: Joy says, “How old are you? Five?” “Six,” says Jack. “Actually, I’m six.” Nice comeback. When feeling especially adrift, the leads beat each other with baguettes.
When the pair start to warm to each other, the film at least stops being repellent, but it never starts to make sense. What is it that totally reverses each’s opinion of the other, after a War of the Roses-style series of ugly attacks? She sees him coaching Little League and he learns that she likes his favorite movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Is there anyone who doesn’t like Raiders of the Lost Ark?) Never mind. Let’s get these two wacky lovebirds together for a nice, romantic dance to a song that encapsulates their true feelings…the theme from Flashdance?
What Happens in Vegas
Directed by Tom Vaughan
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Treat Williams, Dennis Miller, Queen Latifah
1/2 star/ 4
99 minutes/Rated PG-13
Kyle Smith is a film critic for the the New York Post. His website is at www.kylesmithonline.com.