What Happens in Vegas Stays Sucky

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20th Century Fox / Everett Collection

You're going to pay me to see this movie? Uh, I'd like to politely decline.

"Dying is easy, comedy is hard."

It's probably the stalest cliche in show business, so much so that one thinks maybe it's ripe for re-examination. Let's stipulate that great comedy — like great anything — is difficult. But it seems to me that creating OK comedy, the sort of thing that allows you to pass an idle Saturday night pleasantly, if not memorably, is not necessarily a life-threatening activity.

I mean, what do you need? A couple of attractive actors, a goofy, but not entirely implausible, premise, a modicum of snappy dialogue, the navigation of a handful of embarrassing situations, before the couple finally realizes that, all kidding aside, they were meant for each other. You don't have to be Oscar Wilde, or for that matter, Neil Simon, to pull that off.

Why then, do we have to suffer through movies like What Happens in Vegas, which is the worst-in-breed not only for this year, but very likely in living memory. The tormented pair, Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, are not at all dislikable and their situation is not comedically hopeless. They meet in the eponymous city, he having lost his job, she having lost her fiance. Both are trying to forget these blows. But they get drunk, get married on a whim — and accidentally win three million dollars on a single turn at a slot machine. This inconveniences settlement of the divorce proceedings that shortly ensue, for a cranky judge (Dennis Miller) sentences them to six months "hard marriage," — complete with couples therapy presided over by Queen Latifah — to see if they can work things out.

It is at this point that the movie heads south into predictable stupidity. She, of course, is an up-tight neat freak. He's an amiable slob. She's a careerist. He doesn't much care if he ever works again. She moves into his bachelor pad, which I don't really have to describe, since you've been there a dozen times — dirty dishes and empty beer bottles everywhere, the floors strewn with socks and underwear — and don't even think about the bathroom. She has a long scene where she tries to teach him the virtues of putting the toilet seat up before using the facility. She, on the other hand, sometimes lengthily preempts the bathroom, which obliges him to use that kitchen sink to relieve himself.

That's the height of the hilarity on offer here, and it's not hard to see where the writer, Dana Fox, and the director, Tom Vaughan, went wrong. Whatever audience for high (or even medium) wit once existed has mostly decamped for Assisted Living. There remains a small slightly doddering crowd that's up for small, well-written comedies like Helen Hunt's Then She Found Me, which is currently playing in a release that will remain forever limited to older people who are not afraid to visit the "art" houses Mass market comedy (unless Judd Apatow and his heart-healthy pals are involved) is pitched largely to a young crowd that apparently likes to see pretty people — especially upwardly striving ones like Diaz's character — humiliated and abused in ways that are stupefyingly familiar. I'm beginning to think that these kids represent a resentment demographic, less eager to laugh than they are to exercise spite and envy at peers who want to grow up sensibly rather than throw up mindlessly in some sleazebag movie.