Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #576
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 25, 1998
Sub-Genre: Black Comedy
Box Office: $21,000,000
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Peter Berg
Producers: Cindy Cowan, Diane Nabatoff, Michael Schiffer
Screenplay: Peter Berg
Special Effects: Bruce Mattox, Virgil Sanchez
Visual Effects: John P. Mesa
Cinematography: David Hennings
Score: Stewart Copeland
Editing: Dan Lebental
Studios: Initial Entertainment Group, Interscope Communications
Distributor: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Stars: Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Leland Orser, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Joey Zimmerman, Tyler Cole Malinger, Kobe Tai, Russell B. McKenzie
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Chris Isaak “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing”
 Tina & The B Sides (B-Side Movement) “Walls Come Down”
I’m sure we’re all aware of what shit really goes down on stag nights. “When the cat’s away, the mice will play”, isn’t that how the saying goes? That’s right, this particular event represents the end of one life and the beginning of another more miserable one, and pretty much anything goes by all accounts. It’s not as though bucks are provided with hall passes, more a case of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” as those ladies in waiting have no great desire to learn of how far their insignificant others decided to sink during these boozy benders. In the interest of fairness, I feel compelled to add that hen nights are likely every bit as debauched as the alpha equivalent but today I shall be focusing solely on the former. Fancy a dash of reasoning? Peter Berg’s jet black comedy Very Bad Things is a tale of the most cautionary variety and likely to have any bachelors amongst us who are preparing to plunge into their nuptials opting for a nice quiet poker night with chips and dips instead.
The words “black” and “comedy” in the same sentence are all I need to discern before salivating from the maw like a thirsty Weimaraner and I gleefully lap up any dish placed before me that marries the two together. Perhaps it’s the ‘lil devil in me but, when very bad things play out, I’m all in faster than Monica Lewinsky’s retainer after Bill Clinton has wrapped up his fundraiser speech. Now let’s not twist the knife into the old lady’s spleen here, I glean little pleasure from watching folk come a cropper, aside from the obvious of course. It’s not that I will others to fail, more that I’m waiting in the wings like chlamydia for the precise moment that those nipples point northward. My case in point is this – on a recent excursion to a fully loaded shopping centre, I was positioned behind a young buck as he scaled a flight of stairs in full view of Joe public. This narcissistic twonk honestly believed that his morning stools smelled of elderberry and was too busy chatting bollocks on his iPhone 12 (or whatever they’re up to now) to realize that his flip-flops were about to conspire against him in the most mortifying manner imaginable.
I could sense pratfall coming and, needless to say, my dance was of the happiest strain when the inevitable transpired. As this sorry self-loving spam stick slid down several steps on his schnoz, the urge to bust a gut was simply too much to bear and I vaguely recall a snot bubble emerging as I watched him frantically attempt to hold onto the tiniest slither of dignity and damn near fell about laughing. Of course, had he been in his late sixties and recovering from a recent hip replacement, then I’d have checked his pulse before bursting like a happy piñata. But by acting Mr. Vain, he denied himself the privilege and should count himself lucky that the Vine hadn’t been invented or I would have become an overnight internet celebrity off the back of his foible. Black comedy is where it’s at and the clue couldn’t be more concealed in the title than with Very Bad Things.
Needless to say, not everyone welcomed Berg’s film with open arms on release, and it was largely panned by critics and accused of being “mean-spirited and empty”. Consequently, it bombed at the box office and failed to recoup its original $30 million outlay before disappearing faster than Salman Rushdie at a book signing. Is it mean-spirited? Yes as a matter of fact, it is rather miserly in that department. Empty? Negative, this delightful little lump of coal is positively brimming with incident and could never be accused of sparsity, outside of the moral variety. Packed tight with peril, none of which is mild I might add, it is the very epitome of rip-roaring rollercoaster ride and, if The Grim Reaper was looking for inspiration for some Final Destination hijinks, then he would do well to spend one last night of freedom with Kyle Fisher and his similarly terminal-fated entourage before tampering with the tracks.
Kyle (Jon Favreau) is right on the cusp of exchanging nuptials with his whip-cracking fiancée Laura (Cameron Diaz) and decides to let off a dash of last-minute steam by heading off to sin city with his besties in tow for some “tasteful” stag night shenanigans. Accompanied by smarmy spokesperson Robert (Christian Slater), timid non-entity Charles (Leland Orser), and sparring brothers Adam (Daniel Stern) and Michael (Jeremy Piven), he wastes no time in piling on the excess to the tune of free-flowing alcohol, Class-A narcotics, and the obligatory ping-pong firing hooker. Think The Hangover and you’re in the right penthouse, although this sorry bunch don’t quite make it to the morning after before lamenting their decision and getting cracking with the most almighty damage limitation exercise. Through the kind of rapid escalation that Very Bad Things revels in openly, the boys end up with a dead street-walker and similarly rigor-morted hotel security guard to explain their way out of and quick-thinking Robert foolishly suggests that, come next year, nobody will know what they did last summer. Time for the shovels lads.
Other than that I shall respect the “what happens in Vegas…” code and remained zipped like a coroner’s clutch bag but I will say this – Very Bad Things effortlessly nestles into the uppermost tier of blackest comedies I have ever had the bang to rights pleasure of enjoying the merry hell out of. The hyper-sensitive need not apply, anyone expecting the faintest puff of restraint will have filled their applications in for nothing, and the rest of us are going straight to hell anyhoots so why the devil not with shit-eating grins spread across our faces? You know those worst-case scenarios? Turns out they’re as correct as they are ever-present and this may well be the worst double-bill date movie to line up alongside Adrian Lynne’s Fatal Attraction ever conceived. Berg’s screenplay opts for a constant state of distress to finesse, gets the job done, and lines up the laughs like devilish little dominoes. Then he smashes them to smithereens with a wrecking ball disguised as a toffee apple. God bless him for that.
With such a fine ensemble on-hand to punish like a wicked stepfather and no cooler present to suggest he should bet on red, Berg categorically owns the table. Favreau is golden as the downtrodden Shrek type he perfected for Doug Liman’s Swingers, Slater platinum in full-on hyena mode, Stern wonderfully edgy as hen-pecked Nancy boy tag-along Adam, Piven tantalizingly twitchy as “lemme get first snort” playboy nutbag Michael, and Orser marvellously muted as resident shadow hugger Charles. Furthermore, Diaz both brings it and sings it as the ever-so-mildly hateful bride-to-be and provides us with one of the film’s most incalculable snapshot moments as Very Bad Things sinks to the clay beyond in one of the most gut-bustingly preposterous endings I’ve ever watched in fly-catching awe. With so many tasty morsels bubbling in his broth, seasoning is plentiful and spicy enough to make those eyes water.
Very Bad Things is many things, none of which include restrained or particularly respectful and what a breath of fresh Vegas casino oxygen that turns out to be. If you’re searching for dignity, then good luck with that and may I just suggest offering Berg’s party crasher a real Grand Canyon of berths as you’ll likely rupture a tumor and drown rather ironically in poison. There’s nothing well done about it, we’re talking straight from the kitchen rare and bloody, and all the more juicy and succulent for it. Las Vegas happens to be one of my all-time darling holiday spots and I’m pleased to report that there were no dead hookers in my trunk during my excursion. But thanks to 100 minutes with Kyle Fisher and frenemies, I’m now starting to wonder what that curious rear-quarter thumping was midway down Route 66.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: You may wish to brain Piven for his accidental party pooping antics as he robs us all of a good leer. That said, Very Bad Things makes no excuses whatsoever for splurging a few splashes of Sauvignon on those nice white signature hotel robes and flat refuses to pick up the tab to boot. There’s more deep red mouthwash stored than a comedy can ordinarily stuff in its grinning cheeks and, intriguingly, the most jaw-dropping moments need not even facilitate a blood orgy.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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