Wednesday November 25, 1998
"Very Bad Things" is a lamentable film whose woeful qualities are heightened by the smugness and self-satisfaction of its creators. The unhappy writing and directing debut of actor Peter Berg, this sour item will undoubtedly wear its negative reviews as badges of honor, marks of having been too real, too honest and, most important, way too hip and trendy for the uninitiated to appreciate.
The opposite is closer to the truth. Not only isn't this kind of superblack comedy groundbreaking anymore, it's become as familiar and tedious a sight from independent filmmakers as directors in backward baseball caps are at Sundance.
And while its delusional creative team talks grandly in the press notes of having made a film "so disturbing that it rocks your world at a deep level," the truth is that this work is hollow, simple-minded and about as profound an experience as stepping in a pile of road kill.
The hallmark of "Very Bad's" depiction of life falling apart for five friends after a bachelor party in Las Vegas gets way out of hand is the almost sadistic glee it takes in its ability to project the most cynical view of human nature imaginable.
Unfortunately, writer-director Berg and his cast are much too pleased with themselves for having gone oh so far, being oh so daring, for any of them to realize just presenting a situation is not an end in itself.
Not at all funny (though it strenuously pretends to be), not at all insightful (though one of its producers speaks with apparent complete seriousness of revealing "the demons inside all of us"), "Very Bad" is a completely pointless exercise, the fake-provocative scrawl of naughty toddlers who think it's enough to say, "Look how bad we've been," for the world to take approving notice. In today's cinematic climate, they're probably right.
Before you can have a bachelor party, you need a potential bride and groom, and that would be Angelenos Laura Garrety (Cameron Diaz) and Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau). She's obsessed with every detail of a perfect picture-book wedding while he's got his mind on his upcoming bachelor party in Vegas.
Going with him are bickering brothers Adam and Michael Berkow (Daniel Stern and Jeremy Piven), nonverbal garage mechanic Charles Moore (Leland Orser) and real estate agent Robert Boyd (Christian Slater).
It's Boyd who's the mastermind behind the party, the operator who lines up stripper Tina (Carla Scott) to entertain his drunk and coked-up buddies in their hotel room. But a bout of over-athletic sex in the bathroom takes an unhappy turn: Tina's head gets graphically impaled on a wall hook and she dies exploitatively naked in a pool of blood. Laughing yet? Don't worry, things are just getting started.
While decent Adam wants to call the police, hustler Boyd says not so fast. "There are always options," he claims, even in this kind of "major thin-ice situation," and he makes a passionate case for how easy it would be to just bag Tina and then bury her somewhere in the desert on the drive home.
Making that option a little less easy is the appearance of a hotel security guard (Russell B. McKenzie) who, this being the kind of happy-go-lucky film it is, gets promptly butchered as well. Now both bodies have to be cut into pieces and buried in the desert, not once, but twice, because good-guy Adam insists on digging them up to ensure that all the pieces of each body are buried together.
Naturally, all this creates major hostility between the former pals, which plays itself out in complete hysteria, constant screaming and serious nervous breakdowns once everyone gets back to L.A. One by one the guys unravel and lose control in a kind of chain-reaction psychosis. Before this miserable epic is finally over, everyone involved (including the audience) is either maimed or dead or wishing they were.
Berg, best known for his role on "Chicago Hope," has given an interview about the making of "Very Bad" in a recent issue of Movieline that reads like a parody of an actor who's had his head turned by too much stroking.
"I have very little desire to be a movie star," Berg says. "There's something tremendously unsatisfying about it. You make a lot of money, you have a lot of opportunities, you get to sleep with a lot of very beautiful women, you get free food in restaurants. But you service other people's visions. Your privacy is stripped from you. People perceive you as something you're not."
Before anyone gets too depressed about Berg's plight, be assured he's going to break those golden chains and focus on writing and directing. "If I could make 10 more movies like 'Very Bad Things,' " the actor says, "with that kind of creative control, that's a life, man." For him, maybe. For moviegoers the prospect is considerably more deadly.
Very Bad Things, 1998. R for strong, grisly violence, sexuality, drug use and language. Polygram Filmed Entertainment presents in association with Initial Entertainment Group an Interscope Communications production in association with Ballpark Productions, released by Polygram Films. Director Peter Berg. Producers Michael Schiffer, Diane Nabatoff, Cindy Cowan. Executive producers Ted Field, Scott Kroopf, Michael Helfant, Christian Slater. Screenplay Peter Berg. Cinematographer David Hennings. Editor Dan Lebental. Costumes Terry Dresbach. Music Stewart Copeland. Production design Dina Lipton. Art director Michael Atwell. Set decorator Kathy Lucas. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Christian Slater as Robert Boyd. Cameron Diaz as Laura Garrety. Daniel Stern as Adam Berkow. Jeanne Tripplehorn as Lois Berkow. Jon Favreau as Kyle Fisher. Jeremy Piven as Michael Berkow. Leland Orser as Charles Moore.
Very Bad Things
Bachelor Party Goes 'Very Bad' in Self-Satisfied Black Comedy
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.