The most annoying expression-turned-official city slogan ever is now a major motion picture starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. Finally! They play a pair of odd-couple New Yorkers whose initial hostility is followed by more hostility, then by the obligatory race to re-get the girl, this time via water taxi. Happily, the eleventh-hour declaration does not take place in front of a correctly diverse crowd breaking into applause. Small mercies.
And yet, the premise being the teetering house of cards that it is, it's a wonder we get there at all. Joy McNally (Diaz) is an uptight commodities trader recently dumped by her Wall Street fiance (Jason Sudeikis). Jack Fuller (Kutcher) is a slacker carpenter recently fired by his own father. They come together on the other side of the country when a computer glitch lands them and their respective wise-cracking best friends Tipper (Lake Bell) and Hader (Rob Corddry) in the same Las Vegas hotel room.
Joy and Jack get smashed, realize they're meant for each other (the parallels pile up in a frenzy of crosscutting action interspersed with insert shots of spewing fountains and loose slots) and wake up married. Horrified, they get into an argument about who is dumping whom, which somehow ends with Jack winning a $3-million jackpot with Joy's quarter. Next thing you know, they're in court to determine who gets what. Unfortunately for them, Judge Whopper (Dennis Miller) orders them to "six months hard marriage." If they fail, he'll tie up the $3 million in so much litigation neither one would ever see a dime.
You can't blame the poor romantic comedy genre for contrivances as tortuous as these. It's not easy these days for writers to find ways to get couples together long enough to realize they love each other. "What Happens in Vegas" is in a sense a classic comedy of remarriage, except that it takes a lot of court-ordered bureaucracy to keep the couple tethered, things like mandated weekly visits to a marriage counselor played by Queen Latifah.
Written by Dana Fox ("The Wedding Date") and directed by Tom Vaughan, on his first big Hollywood job, "What Happens in Vegas" feels oddly stilted yet desperate, as though its principals felt the need to overcompensate for the too-neat symmetry of opening scenes with over-the-top violence and bright orange tans (Diaz looks like a Nutter Butter). Bell and Corddry break no new ground as the angry best friends, but get in some decent lines -- Bell especially. And Dennis Farina is suitably menacing as Joy's boss.
Hokey and forced as it is, "What Happens in Vegas" eventually settles into a rhythm, maybe because Diaz and Kutcher actually look like they have fun together. Which, unfortunately, is saying a lot. Most of the humor is derived from the same moldy men are from Slobland, women are from Planet Clean cliches, but the movie is just weird and disjointed enough to keep from feeling like an utterly soulless Hollywood product.
"What Happens in Vegas." MPAA rating: PG-13 for some crude sexual content, and language, including a drug reference. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. In wide release.