© 2008 Ray Wong
What Happens in Vegas... has a cute title. It has a cute premise. It has cute stars. It is, in fact, a cute romantic comedy. Just don't expect any substance.
Joy McNally (Cameron Diaz) is an uptight control-freak who just gets dumped by her fiance (Jason Sudeikis). Jack Fuller (Ashton Kutcher) is a slacker who just gets fired by his boss/father (Treat Williams). To blow off some steam and get over their funk, they (separately) decide to go to Vegas for a fun weekend. The two strangers accidentally gets involved with each other and they decide to hang out.
What is supposed to be a one night stand turns into something else. While drunk and out of control, the two get married without knowing what they're doing. The next morning, knowing they've made a mistake, they decide to get an annulment until Jack wins the jackpot playing slots using Joy's quarter. Neither wants to give up the money. They decide to settle the matter in court. Instead, Judge Whopper (Dennis Miller) issues a court order to freeze the money until they give their marriage a chance for six months, with weekly counseling with Dr. Twitchell (Queen Latifah).
Cameron Diaz (The Holiday) is arguably the queen of romcom these days. She has that zany, goofy girl-next-door quality, what with her supersaturated glow of a tan and wide grin. It's a little difficult to believe that she's an uptight career woman; fortunately, the writers make sure we understand that deep down she's a free spirit. There's really nothing groundbreaking about Diaz's performance. She's doing what she does best, and she delivers. Ashton Kutcher (The Guardian) also returns to his root: playing a dumb jock with a great heart. It is a good role for him, drawing on his strength as a comedic actor and banking on his charms and good looks. Diaz and Kutcher do have good chemistry, especially when they're bickering, insulting, and trying to pull one over each other.
Rob Corddry (Harold & Kumar Escape to Guantanamo Bay) is kind of irritating as Jack's doofus lawyer-friend. Actually that's how the character's written so Corddry's doing his job, perhaps a little too well. Lake Bell's (Over Her Dead Body) character as Joy's best friend is a bit more likable. At least she seems to truly care for Joy's well-being. The rest of the cast is fine in their minor roles: Treat Williams (The Hideout) as Jack's critical father, Michelle Krusiec (Far North) as Joy's conniving rival at work, Dennis Farina (Snatch) as Joy's boss, and Queen Latifah (Stranger Than Fiction) as the couple's counsellor.
Written by Dana Fox (The Wedding Date), the story is as distinctive and familiar as the bells of a slot machine. The "they meet cute" premise is interesting, and the initial romp is fun and witty despite the contrivance. The dialogue is sharp, the insults fast and amusing. The first half of the script moves quickly and does a good job establishing the characters and their relationships. However, in the second half, the story loses momentum, especially when the couple stops bickering and begins to show true affection for each other. It becomes trite and predictable, and not very convincing either. The metamorphosis in the characters is forced and unauthentic. The plot becomes cliched and overtly sentimental. It loses its comedic edge.
Director Tom Vaughan (John From Cincinnati) is part of the problem as well. The first half of the film has great comedic energy. Lots of laughs. Despite the general plot contrivance, we actually believe in the characters as they bicker and trample over each other. But unlike in the Break Up where we see the characters going through with the bitterness to the end, both Fox and Vaughan make the mistake of softening and slowing down everything. We're forced to witness how great these characters really are, and we're supposed to root for them to get together. Sure, we know where the story is going, but do we really need to be spoon-fed the mush and the "I'm actually a better person" speeches? And unlike in Knocked Up (which has a similar theme: unlikely couple fights to stay together despite the odds), What Happens in Vegas... becomes flaccid as the plot and characters become too cookie-cutter for us to care. Or laugh, for that matter.
So my problem with the film lies entirely in the second half. It seems like there are two movies in one, and the two halves don't mesh. The contrivance only becomes obvious and irritating like the bells of a slot machine once the story turns serious. At least the first half is entertaining and funny. The second half feels like a rerun of any nighttime soap opera. I do wonder: what happened during production?
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Lake Bell, Jason Sudeikis, Treat Williams, Deirdre O'Connell, Michelle Krusiec, Dennis Farina, Dennis Miller, Queen Latifah
Director: Tom Vaughan
Writer: Dana Fox
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual and crude content, language, drug reference
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.7 out of 10