A little insobriety never hurt a romantic comedy. In its whooshing prime, the genre used to feature big cocktail parties where the stars flirted, caroused, and cavorted.
Now the leads go to bars and are desperate to hold their liquor. It's last-call romantic comedy. No one is sober enough to be clever, or self-possessed enough to be sexy. The hookup is the gateway to love. And that's possible only after the lovers have shared the most intimate humiliation, the way strangers who walk away from horrible accidents feel close.
"What Happens in Vegas," which staggers into megaplexes today, is that kind of accident. When it was over I felt vaguely embarrassed. I wasn't just leaving a movie theater. I was taking a walk of shame.
This movie gives us the braying Ashton Kutcher and an intensely toned Cameron Diaz as Jack and Joy, New Yorkers who meet after they're booked in the same Vegas hotel suite. They get drunk and married. Just before breaking up, they hit a $3 million jackpot and are sentenced by a judge to "six months' hard marriage" before they can split it. Having survived this beery movie and that noisy marriage, it's fair to say I deserve a cut, too.
After the casino horseplay ends, Jack and Joy return to their lives, where the schemes to end the marriage begin. (Whoever violates the judge's terms loses the money.) The film turns into a long two-way episode of Kutcher's old "Punk'd" show. If that sounds exciting, it's not. The filmmakers cut between Joy and her best friend (Lake Bell) discussing the same legal loopholes as Jack and his best friend (Rob Corddry). They concoct the same sneaky plot. And the only conclusion to be drawn from such incriminating crosscutting is that these four minds share one small brain.
Kutcher gets to fake spousal abuse during mandatory couples therapy with an inexplicably cast Queen Latifah. Diaz gets to pummel Kutcher with oranges, beat him with a loaf of bread, and admonish him with PG-13-friendly profanity. At some point, she even slides along a bar and crashes onto the floor, then pops up like an exclamation point and yells. There appear to be more "wooooos!" in Dana Fox's script than any actual words.
"What Happens in Vegas," which Tom Vaughan directed, has a lousy time making the fight for money more than a sport. Neither Joy nor Jack appears to need it. She's angling for a big Wall Street promotion. He lives in a capacious loft at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge (on a worker-bee carpenter's salary). The movie might have been way more interesting as a class comedy about a war between two broke and desperate people. Instead, it wraps up with our stars more or less reminding each other, as much as us, that they're loaded - and, on this occasion, scandalously overpaid.