What Happens in Vegas

what happens in vegas

With its afterthought of a title, What Happens in Vegas should be a throwaway romantic comedy that reliably lives up to its Razzie Award billing. (It received nominations for Worst Actress and Worst Couple.) But something kind of crazy happened, as things are wont to do, and I actually fell for this movie. Though it’s unevenly tilted towards humor for the college crowd and makes poor use of its cast, there’s a surprising sweetness that one doesn’t expect from a film whose main gag stems from a drunken night in Vegas.

Joy (Cameron Diaz), a controlling trader – I guess that is the only kind, jets out to Sin City after her fiancé (a cold and smarmy Jason Sudeikis) dumps her at his surprise birthday party. When she and her friend Tipper (Lake Bell) arrive, they discover Jack (Ashton Kutcher), a laid back carpenter who’s just been fired by his father (Treat Williams) again, and his incompetent lawyer friend, Hater (Rob Corddry), are mistakenly booked in the same room. A penthouse upgrade, dozens of tequila shots, a sober breakfast, and a lucky quarter later, Joy and Jack are not only married but $3 million richer. Back in New York, they file for a quick divorce and an equal share of the jackpot.

But sniffing a film plot, the judge refuses. He forces the couple to make a real go at being husband and wife for six months and the audience to suffer through Joy and Jack’s tortured attempts to coexist while also completely undermining one another. She is repulsed by his lack of personal hygiene, and he is unnerved by her uptight behavior. With the help of their friends, both concoct plans to prove their spouse unfaithful or abusive. Their unimaginative tricks make this film indistinguishable from most other bland romcoms, though jokes like the one about Joy’s boss, Dick Banger, put this closer to the juvenile end of the spectrum.

Yet somehow, there is still a touching romance to be salvaged. Almost stealthily, a telling moment between Jack and his overly critical father also turns into one between him and his wife. The brief encounter reveals a far more vulnerable Jack and shows Joy to be capable of deep tenderness. This scene pivots quickly back to more familiar territory though, and part of the movie’s problem is that can’t find the right balance between loud comedy and understated sentimentality, which it could use a little more of. It’s as if What Happens is afraid of getting too close to emotional truth and tries to overcompensate with baser comedy.

Kutcher’s performance embodies that. He’s great at playing the slouch and surprisingly deft as a romantic lead but abruptly swings from one to the other. Diaz handles her character’s demands better, in part because Joy is more transparent. Still, the lack of cohesion runs throughout. Actors are underused, like Queen Latifah as the court appointed marriage counselor, and characters underwritten, like Zach Galifianakis in a useless part as Jack and Hater’s awkward friend. I’m willing to take what I can though, and where this film is endearing, it wins.

Released: 2008
Prod: Michael Aguilar, Shawn Levy, Jimmy Miller
Dir: Tom Vaughan
Writer: Dana Fox
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Robb Corddry, Lake Bell, Dennis Farina, Dennis Miller, Krysten Ritter, Jason Sudeikis, Michelle Krusiec, Queen Latifah, Zach Galifianakis, Treat Williams, Deirdre O’Connell
Time: 99 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

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