[9 May 2008]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
A weekend in Vegas leads to trials and tribulations for slacker carpenter Jack (Ashton Kutcher) and commodities trader Joy (Cameron Diaz). Each arrives in town seeking relief from an exceedingly bleak week—he’s been fired by his own hardworking and decidedly unbitter father (Treat Williams), she’s been dumped by her upscaley and utterly boring betrothed (Jason Sudeikis). They meet very un-cute, get sloppy drunk (dancing on tables, falling off bars, roaring toasts for rooms full of crazy-wild extras), and get hitched.
Joy realizes this last dreadful fact in What Happens in Vegas when she wakes the next morning with a big fake gold ring shaped like a pair of dice. Heading down to breakfast with hubby, she’s advised by her best friend and traveling companion Tipper (Lake Bell) that her previous night’s behavior was beyond all fathoming, and besides, Tipper spent her evening throwing up in her purse. As you have indeed witnessed the corny montage-version of Joy and Jack’s night out, you know they’re destined for romance, even if they don’t: they agree to divorce once they get back to New York. At least until Jack uses Joy’s quarter in a slot machine and wins $3 million. Suddenly, as she crows so completely obnoxiously, “What’s mine is yours, baby!”
Though Joy and Jack are determined to split up and split the cash, they remain a couple fated to fall in lazy-movie-love. To this end, they are deemed “kids today” by one Judge Whopper (Dennis Miller, not exactly improving on his recent career batting average) and so sentenced to learn the value of commitment via “six months of hard marriage.” Jack’s case is not helped by his best friend and lame-brained lawyer, Hater (Rob Corddry, delivering exactly to the low expectations set by his recent job choices), who essentially tells him to go through the marriage motions, then collect the $1.5 million—or whatever the leftovers may be after taxes. As Jack’s confidant, Hater serves a familiar role, offering invariably retarded counsel so that Jack looks relatively reasonable. Tipper—who initially seems the film’s single sane person, though that impression changes by the time the credits roll—despises him immediately, announcing, “If I could make someone dead with my mind, it would be you.”
When the best friends are not around, Jack and Joy don’t have much more going for them. As they share his apartment (she’s been conveniently kicked out of the fiancé‘s), they argue over hygiene and the toilet seat, exchanging glances at each other’s bodies in underwear, her creepily bronzed-and-shiny skin looking almost slithery alongside his little-boy haircut and wide, ingenuous-seeming smiles. While the mismatch is surely formulaic, a means to prolong their route to reconciliation, it is also awkward and even more annoying than most such generic exercises. That is, when they are unable to appear sincere for weekly marriage therapy sessions (with Queen Latifah), Jack and Joy separately come up with the same alternative strategy, to drive the other one to cheat or otherwise create grounds for divorce and so the “winner” gets all the money.
This unoriginal concept means expanded crude conniving (a squad of hot “slutty” girls show up at Jack’s apartment, she’s dosed with speed-juice to make her even more crazed than usual at work) and the inevitable moments when each opponent realizes that the other is not so bad as he or she thought. She smiles when he plays nicely with children at a family picnic, he smiles when he sees her in a brilliant gold sheath at a company retreat. Playing her loyal and rowdy-humored partner for this event, he also earns points for using penis jokes to win the favor of her boss, Dick Banger (Dennis Farina, who must be sooo happy his stint on Law & Order is over). He poses a contrast to the uptight wife, suggesting to Dick that maybe she’s right for the big promotion after all, a plot-pointy prize that only underscores the film’s lack of imagination. (See if you can guess how the significantly named Joy comes to view her vocation, once she observes the happiness Jack finds in “working with his hands.”)
The expectedness of the outcome and every turn that leads to it presses down on the film with an odious sort of weight, and neither jack nor Joy finds a way out from under. By the time they’re dancing together and gazing into one another’s eyes, the camera circling like a paparazzi’s lens—all to the tune of “What a Feeling”—you may be feeling crushed by the knowledge that you’ve seen this movie before (maybe even last week, when it was called Made of Honor). The one choice offered to Joy comes when her ex arrives (yes, encouraged by the pre-reconciled Jack, scheming to ruin her self-confidence). She’s briefly startled, thinking that maybe she’s missing something (money, order, the status she once thought important). But no, she has no option. The ex and the future beau are the same, one designer-suited and the other shaggy, both entirely common, self-absorbed and bland rom-com leads. Is it any surprise that she picks the one nicknamed Jack-Off?