On the Aisle

Film review by Tony Macklin

Sometimes you just can’t trust reviewers. Hillary may be right. Maybe you should just dismiss your education and go against economists and the knowledgeable. No, believe the economists and the knowledgeable. It’s just the media and some politicians you can’t trust.

What brought me to this critical impasse was the reviewers’ reactions to “What Happens in Vegas.” It received only 28 percent favorable on the compilation of reviews in Rottentomatoes.com. That’s 72 percent unfavorable.

Richard Roeper, everybody’s favorite lightweight, hated it. He said the acting was “beyond redemption.” Because of the amount of critical mudslinging, I avoided the movie. But the week I wrote this review, there were no movies to review, so it got my attention by default. Also, it had finished third at the box office in its second week, which means it has good word of mouth. And my wife—an Obama-gal—loved it. BTW, unlike me, she thought “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull” delivered completely.

As so often is the case I’m in the 28 percent, I enjoyed “What Happens in Vegas.” Roeper worshipped “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and called it one of the best comedies ever. I enjoyed “What Happens in Vegas” a lot more than FSM.

“What Happens in Vegas” has mediocre direction and a strained screenplay, so how can it be any good? What carries the film is its two stars. If Ashton Kutcher bothers you, you’ll probably hate “What Happens in Vegas.” If Cameron Diaz leaves you cool, you won’t connect with the movie. But if you let Kutcher and Diaz do their thing, you should enjoy yourself. Maybe a lot.

Kutcher and Diaz have a chemistry that Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson can only dream about.

As Jack Fuller, Kutcher, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, runs a gamut of self-satisfaction. When he exacts his revenge, Jack is a gusher of boyish glee. As Joy McNally, Diaz is innocent flint that can create sparks. Together they have a human, comic rapport. As their characters’ relationship develops, it is actually touching—at least to a few of us.

“What Happens in Vegas” is the story of two people who try to rebound from low points. Jack has been fired from his job, and Joy has been dumped by her boyfriend. Jack is irresponsible, and Joy is an uptight controller.

Each escapes to Las Vegas, where they meet, party wildly, wake up married and quickly decide to get a divorce. But just after their decision, Jack puts a quarter in a slot machine, and hits a jackpot of $3 million dollars.

Jack and Joy immediately become hostile and fight for the money. A judge (Dennis Miller) freezes the jackpot, and sentences the duo to six months of hard marriage with weekly visits to a marriage therapist (Queen Latifah). If they live together for six months and get the therapist’s agreement, then the judge will grant them a divorce and split up the jackpot.

The couple live in constant warfare, each trying to destroy the other. This leads to an escalating battle of skirmishes and deceptions. You can guess how it turns out.

Kutcher and Diaz are a very likable couple. They are two actors who have intelligence, physical skill and idiosyncratic charm. They make the script work better than it should.

Tom Vaughn makes his debut as feature director. Kutcher and Diaz help him immensely. What could be an even greater hazard than a first-time director is an unsteady writer. Dana Fox, who wrote the screenplay for “The Wedding Date” (2005), concocts a script that falters, but the talented actors run with it.

Fox’s screenplay has some terrible lines: “Where’s the one place you can step up and be a man?”

“Community college.”

That’s god-awful.

Fox also has problems with authenticity. You can’t win a jackpot in Vegas with just one quarter; you have to put in the machine’s full requirement to win a jackpot. A quarter will not suffice. Little carelessness such as this show that a writer is not totally aware. Also a rift on the name Dick Banger only survives because of the skilled cast.

Fox makes sure to pay obeisance to the contemporary value of dumbness in comedies. She writes two roles that seem like they escaped from Judd Apatow. I’m sure he let them go.

Rob Corddry as Jack’s buddy and Lake Bell as Joy’s pal are relentlessly dopey. Old pros Dennis Farina (Joy’s boss), Treat Williams (Jack’s father) and Queen Latifah conduct themselves ably.

“What Happens in Vegas” is an enjoyable afternoon at the movies. It’s like a quarter slot machine that pays off although you don’t invest the full amount. It may be bargain basement, but it’s a real bargain.

Categories: Entertainment