Very Bad Things

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Polygram, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, pan&scan, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, subtitles: none, single side-dual layer, 18 chapters, cast & crew bios, trailer, rated R, 100 min., $29.95, street date 5/18/99.

Studio Line

Directed by Peter Berg. Starring Christian Slater, Jon Favreau, Cameron Diaz, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn.

The only thing that Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) wants is to marry the woman he loves, Laura Garrety (Cameron Diaz). All Laura wants is the wedding of her dreams. But before Kyle staggers down the aisle with his beautiful, controlling bride, his buddies decide to give their friend one last night of freedom, male bonding and debauchery.

Real estate hustler Boyd (Christian Slater); the battling Berkow brothers, Adam (Daniel Stern) and Michael (Jeremy Piven); and introvert mechanic Moore (Leland Orser) throw a Las Vegas bachelor party for Kyle that is a smashing success, with plenty of booze and drugs - and even a visit from a lithe young stripper. But accidents will happen...

They can call the police. Or, as Boyd suggests, they can dispose of the "105-pound problem" in the desert, then return home and dedicate themselves to leading respectable lives. Not even Adam's keen-eyed wife Lois (Jeanne Tripplehorn) will be able to figure out what happened.

Thus begins a darkly comic homicidal trail, dropped like lethal bread crumbs, by writer-director Peter Berg in this audacious, sure-handed motion picture debut. A savage comedy that rips away the veneer of civility camouflaging base human instinct.

Picture/Sound/Extras (B+/A-/D)

The theme is nothing new, but the execution seems pure '90's. Very Bad Things offers yet another take on the age-old story of how evil begets evil and those who misbehave will eventually pay in the end.

Of course, as popular as that theme may be, it ain't necessarily true. That's one reason that I so loved Seven; it was one of the few movies that dared to imply evil could win in the end. Very Bad Things doesn't go that route; be very certain that all of its miscreants suffer various levels of unpleasant conclusions.

In a lot of ways, Very Bad Things resembled a more comedic, less thoughtful version of A Simple Plan. While both films feature rather different events, they share their concern with the negative ramifications of lies and cover-ups. In both pictures, the characters accidentally slay somebody, but that's not their true sin; in the end, they pay for their attempts to hide their actions.

A Simple Plan used that theme to function as a true character study of the effects deception have on us and how we react to that pressure. Very Bad Things works along the same lines, but in a much more extreme, exaggerated manner. It's a true '90's movie in that it's loud, brash, and relentlessly "in your face."

God help me, but I do look forward to the day when obnoxious, pushy behavior is not regarded as positive. Unfortunately, I'm probably going to have to wait quite some time for that to happen (if ever), because it seems that various media tend to view such behaviors as urgent and "real."

Sorry, I don't see it that way, and that's my main problem with Very Bad Things. In the place of real drama it substitutes hysterics and screaming, and none of the characters ever rise above the level of caricature. It creates quite a ruckus but lacks any kind of real insight or purpose.

Granted, it's clear that the filmmakers weren't actually trying for that kind of movie. Very Bad Things no more strives to accurately depict human reactions to stressful situations that There's Something About Mary tried to provide a realistic picture of romantic relationships. That's a pretty apt comparison, since as Very Bad Things substitutes histrionics for drama, Mary offered disgusting visions instead of actual humor.

Still, Very Bad Things isn't a terrible movie - it certainly isn't in the same league as puerile dreck like Mary. While I didn't care for the film's many excesses, I still found it to be entertaining and fairly compelling. It seemed obvious that the film would have an absurdly unhappy ending, so most of the fun was to see how it got there; you knew each character would experience a dismal fate, but you didn't know exactly what that fate would be.

Very Bad Things features a pretty terrific cast; while it features no real "big time" stars other than Cameron Diaz - who only achieved that status upon the release of Mary, which happened after this film was already done - it offers a very solid list of quality actors. None of them are terribly memorable here, but they all help make the film more entertaining than it otherwise would have been. I was happy to see Diaz take a part that certainly differs from her usual sweet, girl next door persona; she's one nasty piece of work here!

Of particular note (to me, at least) is Leland Orser, if just because every time I see him I think of Seven (do you get the feeling I'm rather fond of that film?). In that movie, Orser played the guy who literally screwed the prostitute to death with the knife-dildo. He seems stuck with characters who offer a similar shtick; both here and in Alien Resurrection, he played characters who spend a substantial period of time freaking out. Hey, he may get typecast, but nobody does it better, so right on, L-man!

Very Bad Things didn't exactly set the box office on fire, and Polygram's DVD of it largely reflects that fact. It's a competent release but it doesn't offer anything special. Overall, the DVD's picture looks pretty good, but not spectacular. At times the image seems somewhat grainy and hazy; this occurs especially in some of the indoor scenes that feature fairly soft (though not low) lighting. Nonetheless, the picture seems satisfactory; while it certainly didn't dazzle me, it also didn't offer any significant flaws.

To my surprise, I found the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix to be quite good. I didn't expect much from it because this kind of film doesn't really lend itself to spectacular audio mixes; those seem more the domain of action flicks. Very Bad Things does exactly what it needs to do and it does it well. Throughout the movie, all audio - dialogue, music, and effects - sound very clean and natural; the music, especially, comes across very well, with clear differentiation and some nice bass response. The rear channels feature some occasionally effective use of split surrounds; they mostly offer music or some very strong atmospheric sounds that heighten the tension. The audio track serves to enhance the film, and that's what is should do, so I thought it worked very nicely.

Less satisfying are the DVD's supplements - there ain't much here. We get some decent cast and director biographies and the theatrical trailer. That's all, folks! Thanks for nothing, Polygram!

Very Bad Things offers a decently entertaining experience, although all the hysterics are likely to get on your nerves sooner than later. Polygram's DVD features pretty good sound and picture, but declines to include any significant supplemental materials. I can't recommend it strongly, but it seems worth a rental.

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