Friday, June 13, 2008


Review: What Happens in Vegas
3.5 stars (out of 5)
by R. Kurt Osenlund

I didn't have high hopes for What Happens in Vegas, a seemingly formulaic romantic comedy with a dreadfully cliched title to boot. At first glance, it's the kind of weak-minded movie that can usually be predicted end-to-end by simply watching the trailer. At second still is; but with the winning combination of Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher in the mix, this formula is surprisingly worth the gamble. Sexy, often laugh-out-loud funny, and completely irresistible, (heaven help me) this is some of the most fun I've had at the movies so far this year.

Not much of What Happens in Vegas actually happens in Vegas, but the gambling capital does play setting to the story's very - like it or not - American inciting incident. After Joy McNally (Diaz) is dumped by her fiance and Jack Fuller (Kutcher) is fired from his dad's woodworking business by the big man himself, both of the native New Yorkers get the idea to nurse their grudges by living it up in Sin City. A hotel mix-up accidentally puts the two strangers in the same room, a chance encounter that leads to an evening of bar-hopping, table dancing, and of course, matrimony. The morning after sees the newlyweds both regretting their inebriated vows, and soon the insults start flying even quicker than the booze-induced sparks. That poses a problem when Jack hits a $3 million jackpot on a slot machine with Joy's quarter, and she pulls the “what's mine is yours” card faster than you can say “prenuptial agreement.” Back in the Big Apple, the two bring their case before an only-in-the-movies, old-fashioned judge (Dennis Miller), who, jaded by couples' lax attitudes toward tying (and untying) the knot, freezes the winnings and sentences Jack and Joy to six months of monitored, “hard marriage,” during which they must try to make it work.

From there, the movie reveals itself to be made of 100% recycled celluloid, turning into The War of the Roses in The Money Pit. To appease the judge (and since her former lover gave her the boot), Joy moves into Jack's dirty bachelor-pad of an apartment, and the pair begin attending weekly, court-ordered couples counseling (with a psychologist played by the uber-reliable Queen Latifah, who phones it in). As advertised, Jack and Joy's rivalry is the main course of this familiar meal, but unlike Kutcher's similarly structured Just Married from 2003 (which proved disastrous), this one is easy to swallow. The antics don't really present anything new as far as cinematic battles of the sexes go (expect the usual traps, double-crosses, mixed emotions and slammed doors), but it's a blast watching these two starlets go at it. From the first night of debauchery (which, for a few frantic minutes, is a party not to be missed), to a hilarious crosstown race that takes place in cabs, buses, on skateboard and on foot, it's nearly impossible not to crack a smile or let out a belly laugh.

Much credit goes to Diaz, who proves once again why she's one of America's most cherished sweethearts. With each movie, the goofy, bubbly blonde emits such a contagious, fun-loving spirit, it's no wonder she's racked up nearly fifty various award nominations in less than ten years. Whether the project is prestigious (Being John Malkovich, Gangs of New York), ridiculous (the Charlie's Angels films) or even animated (the Shrek franchise), Diaz seems to thoroughly enjoy what she does more than anyone else in the business. She confirmed as much when she won Favorite Leading Lady at the 2007 People's Choice Awards, proclaiming: “I. Love. Making. Movies. I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it! It's the best job in the entire world.” She finds a kindred spirit in Kutcher, who may not possess her unyieldingly high level of enthusiasm, but definitely gives her a run for her poker chips.

TV alums Rob Corddry ("The Daily Show") and Lake Bell ("Boston Legal") give solid, comedic support as best friend characters, but this is Cameron and Ashton's show, made evident by the film's commercial model-esque poster which cements the actors' A-List status by dropping last names altogether. By most accounts, What Happens in Vegas is a mediocre movie at best. The direction by Tom Vaughan (Starter for 10) is nothing to write home about and the script is about as cookie-cutter as they come. Most critics will no doubt be bashing it in unison (and already have – it currently has a score of 29% on, but I say they're just hating on something that takes what little it has and wisely puts it into the hands of two camera-loving, crowd-pleasing movie stars. For that, What Happens in Vegas hits the jackpot.

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