May 15, 2008

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What Happens in Vegas (PG-13)
Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher bring home more from Las Vegas than credit card debt and embarrassing photos in What Happens in Vegas, a romantic tale of a marriage built on greed and a night of drunken debauchery.

Actually, when I put it that way, their marriage doesn’t sound all that unusual.

Joy (Diaz) is ready to get married, very ready to get married. Unfortunately, her fiancé Mason (Jason Sudeikis) is less keen on the idea and quick to deflect when she brings up the idea of setting a date. Because of his reluctance (well, his reluctance and the movie’s trailers), we’re not shocked when, just as Joy is about turn on the lights at the doorway to his apartment to reveal the surprise party she’s organized for him, he breaks up with her. “Surprise,” says Joy’s best friend Tipper (Lake Bell, who I am liking more and more the farther away she gets from her Boston Legal stint), who promptly takes Joy out to get drunk.

Meanwhile, Jack (Kutcher) is a slacker with some talents but zero motivation who gets canned from his job — where he is employed by his father (Treat Williams) — for too much goofing around. Jack and his lawyer friend Hater (Rob Corddry, who absolutely steals every scene), like Joy and Tipper, drown their disappointments at a local bar (local here being New York City) and, as with Joy and Tipper, decide that to really get those disappointments good and booze-soaked, the only place to go is Las Vegas.

Once in that land of questionable judgment and even more questionable fashion choices, our foursome is thrown together, resulting in the oil-and-fire-like relationship between Hater and Tipper and the gin-and-tonic-like Joy and Jack. Drinks, some laughing, more drinks, some sympathizing, more drinks, some confusion and next thing you know it’s morning and Jack and Joy are married, Vegas-style.

Of course marriage to a stranger isn’t the only way to gamble in Vegas and, just as Joy and Jack are about to part ways toward a future of annulment and never seeing each other again, a quarter in a slot machine gives them a reason to stick together. Or, as it were, three million reasons.

Instead of the split-the-winnings solution that any reasonable person would reach, a cranky you-kids-today judge (Dennis Miller, perfectly cast) sentences them to “six months’ hard marriage.” They have to try to be a couple to get a shot at the winnings.

In a refreshing change of pace, Kutcher and Diaz actually do have something like chemistry. Sure, it’s less hot-and-sexy chemistry and more the kind of chemistry that two siblings trapped in the back seat of the family car have during a cross-country trip, but it is some kind of chemistry and for your modern romantic comedy that’s a nice change of pace. The really great chemistry in the movie is between Bell and Corddry (whose characters are locked in biting, hilarious hate) and, for that matter, Diaz (or Kutcher) and everybody else. Diaz and Bell have solid friend chemistry, as do Kutcher and Corddry. When we get back to New York City and get some plot going in the assorted personal lives of our couple, that gets pretty entertaining too. Not Judd Apatow/Tina Fey laugh-’til-you-weep entertaining, but frequently chuckle-inducing. Particularly in the scenes of Diaz at her hyperaggressive workplace, the movie gives us more than just the pretty-people-saying-nasty-things-to-each-other setup that the trailers suggest.

Like so many not-quite-there comedies, What Happens in Vegas seems like the uneven pilot for a really solid sitcom, one that eventually becomes a must watch more for the supporting characters than the leads. Which is to say, What Happens in Vegas is a pretty decent comedy when the romance isn’t getting in the way. B-

Rated PG-13 for some sexual and crude content, and language, including a drug reference. Directed by Tom Vaughan and written by Dana Fox, What Happens in Vegas is an hour and 39 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.