Friday, April 15, 2011

Very Bad Things Movie Review: Very Bad Indeed

First published in The Connecticut College Voice on 25 November 1998.
I have made some minor editorial adjustments but nothing that affects the content of the review.

If there’s one thing I can promise after seeing Peter Berg’s Very Bad Things it’s that you will be disgusted, your head will be spinning, or both. In his directorial debut, Berg (who throws in a very subtle hint at his Copland character) has given us a new entry in what has been coined the New Geek Cinema, a new style of filmmaking largely attributed to the likes of Tarantino. The basic gist is that each film tries to outdo the other with outrageous situations, and perhaps also making light humor of it.

Jon Favreau is Kyle, a man who just wants to marry the girl of his dreams played by Cameron Diaz. But before the wedding, his four buddies decide to give him the bachelor party of a lifetime in Las Vegas. Drugs and alcohol abound, and then the stripper-prostitute arrives. As misfortune would have it, she gets killed accidentally during rough sex in the bathroom. Boyd (Christian Slater), the psychotic in the bunch, lays down two options. They can call the police and probably get in some serious trouble, or take the “105 pound problem” to the desert and bury her. Of course there’s more -- a security guard shows up at the hotel room, and Boyd murders him, leaving them two bodies to take care of.

The first half hour of the film is the most gruesome, and if you can survive it, you can manage the rest. The cleanup scene is morbidly grotesque, and Berg plays it for laughs. We see one guy cutting up a body with an electric saw, and another slips and falls in a pool of blood. Unfortunately, it’s outrageous for its own sake. Berg is testing his limits, seeing how far he can push his audience and if you’re one of the people thoroughly enjoying these scenes, you may want to check yourself into a mental health clinic.

The ensemble cast assembled here is a producer’s dream., including  Christian Slater, playing a character much like the one he played in Heathers, Jeremy Piven as Michael, and Daniel Stern as his older brother Adam. This cast had the potential to pull off a great acting feat, but I believe it was Berg’s direction that led them astray. Everyone overacts, and then they overact some more. Favreau shows us nothing of the subtlety he displayed in Swingers, Piven is as rambunctious as ever, Stern is wildly over the top.

There are moments of complete disbelief. When the guys are out in the desert in the middle of the night, about to bury two suitcases full of body parts, Adam blurts out that they can’t bury them that way. Because according to his Jewish faith, the body must be buried together in order for the soul to survive. Since he’s unwilling to budge on this issue, they spend extra time figuring out which body parts belong where. Yet another way for Berg to play with his audience as Boyd tosses a head yelling “Heads up!”  To the film’s credit, there are moments when the comedy is just right, but it’s been done better.

There are films like Happiness, a recent film which mixes disgusting characters with comedy with incredible finesse and style, which put films like this to shame. After the first two deaths, you will be shocked. After the third “accidental” death, you will expect that someone is dreaming. By the time the last death arrives it will be old hat. Ultimately that’s what the film becomes. In the end, you’ll probably say to yourself, “Big deal.”

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