Here's where I get confused: If you knew a pair of people like the characters played by Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher in the new feature-length sitcom pilot What Happens in Vegas, you'd probably hate them. Undoubtedly, in real life, you'd want to punch / mock / immediately walk away from people so outrageously stupid, selfish, and insufferable. So here's my question: Why would you actually PAY for the experience of meeting two such woeful and worthless people? It's not like there's much upside for you...
Pre-packaged movie star detritus of the most inane order, What Happens in Vegas offers an I Love Lucy premise, an Odd Couple leading duo, and a Three's Company screenplay. (I mean, like, season five Three's Company, when you could spot the flaccid punch-lines the split-second the set-up is delivered.) It's not like I went in gunning for the flick, because I happen to think that A) Ashton Kutcher is a fairly funny guy, B) Cameron Diaz is still (often) a generally appealing movie star, and C) "high concept" comedy can sometimes make for one colorful and energetic night at the cinema -- but I've been to writing seminars that offer more humor, creativity, and cleverness than what's on display here. And trust me, writing seminars have none of those things. It's a one-line premise that probably sounded like an amusing lark at one point: Infantile Male and Ice Queen get drunk and get married in Vegas, only to discover that they really hate each other but are then forced to stay newlyweds after hitting a slot machine jackpot. Now, there are several interesting directions in which you could take this premise: You could go with satire and make the point that, despite what we say, humans often value money over love. Or you could try to make an amusing yet insightful farce about how "initial attraction" will often transform into "bitter hatred" once all the alcohol and the hormones have worn off. OR you could just try to do something slight and screwball-y, and hope that you have the right actors for that assignment.
What Happens in Vegas is none of those things, and less. The first studio assignment from Starter for 10 director Tom Vaughan and the first solo credit for a gal who co-scrawled the execrable The Wedding Date, this is a movie that sets its sights firmly on Sitcom Country, and it never once elevates its aspirations beyond those meager goals. I've seen episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond that have more legitimate laughs than this movie -- which, for the record, runs four times longer than a Raymond episode and sure costs a lot more money to deal with. Aside from a pair of fantastic supporting performances (more on those in a minute), What Happens in Vegas is about as funny as tax season.
Kutcher and Diaz do what they can with the anemic screenplay, but it's pretty amazing how flimsy their material is. There's no romantic chemistry between Kutcher and Diaz at the outset, and there's even less comedic chemistry between 'em once the movie has them punking, pranking, and abusing one another. The thing feels a lot like a 94-minute ego-stroke for two leads who've had their egos stroked long enough, thanks. At this point in the cultural evolution of our planet, I just don't know what to make of a scene in which a judge sentences two selfish jerks to "six months hard ... marriage," but I'm simply too old and too smart for material this insipid. The premise feels like something the writers of Full House might have dismissed as "too stupid." I'll spare you the arbitrarily tacked-on subplots about Kutcher's need for maturity and Diaz's search for self-confidence. We're subjected to the random dollops of melodrama at various points in the film, none of which add a thing besides running time.
But a terrible concept can often improve with the help of other assets: As mentioned earlier, Kutcher and Diaz have the combined "likability" of pocket lint, but the movie also suffers from problems in tone, pacing, and structure. (It's a mess, basically.) So it's an absolutely worthless experience, right? Actually ... no. If a film is to be judged as the sum of its parts, then the movie does have a silver lining that's absolutely worth mentioning. Forget the big, flashy movie stars that grace the movie's posters. For probably around 1/10th the cost, someone over at Fox was smart enough to hire Rob Corddry and Lake Bell to play the "best friend" characters.
Not only do both actors steal every scene they inhabit, but they also serve to underline one of Hollywood's biggest blunders: Compared to Corddry and Bell, Kutcher and Diaz are barely even trying. The "best friend" characters in romantic comedies generally exist for two reasons: To deliver clumsy volleys of exposition, and to serve as a counterpoint to the stars' general awesomeness. But in the case of What Happens in Vegas I'll say this: Show me a cut in which Corddry and Bell are the stars while Kutcher and Diaz get to play THEIR "best friends," and then we might have a movie. Dry, droll, and infinitely more unpredictable than the movie itself, Corddry and Bell had me laughing out loud more than once or twice. Put simply: The two leads account for a few stray chuckles and probably a migraine on your part, but Rob Corddry and Lake Bell exhibit a lines-to-laughs ratio that's really quite impressive.
Sloppy, formless, generic, and entirely predictable from stem to stern, What Happens in Vegas might not be the worst comedy you'll see this year, but it is a strangely stupid and instantly forgettable affair. Were it not for the colorful and unpredictable contributions from the "best friend" actors, What Happens in Vegas would be an absolute wasteland. Both Kutcher and Diaz have done a whole lot better with similarly slight material in the past and, one hopes, will do so again in the future.
And really, if what happens in Vegas is always this dumb, I'm glad all the anecdotes are still trapped in Nevada.