Movie Review: What Happens in Vegas
By Matthew Huntley
May 28, 2008
What Happens in Vegas feels like the pilot for a television sitcom. In fact, the premise has already been done before - in an episode of The Simpsons, Homer and Ned Flanders go to Vegas, get drunk, and end up marrying two strange women. The next day, after sobering up, they try to ditch their new brides.
That's more or less what happens in this movie, only the plot continues beyond the ditching part. Jack (Ashton Kutcher) is a recently fired furniture maker and Joy (Cameron Diaz) a recently dumped stock broker. Both head to Vegas to drink and party away their troubles. Jack goes with his pal Hater (Rob Corddry), who's also his lawyer, and Joy takes her best friend Tipper (Lake Bell). Both pairs mistakenly end up in the same hotel room and then challenge each other to hang out on the strip. One thing leads to another and...Jack and Joy party too hard, get wasted and marry each other in a drunken stupor.
The next morning, both ask the other for a divorce, but just as they're about to part ways, they argue and start pointing out each other's flaws. Then Jack inserts one of Joy's quarters into a slot machine and wins the $3 million jackpot. Both claim the prize, but the judge overhearing their case (played by the devilish Dennis Miller) freezes the money and orders Jack and Joy to six months of hard marriage.
I never said What Happens in Vegas would make a great sitcom, but based on the movie, it could make a decent one, with a lot of room to grow. The movie, for what it is, is actually funny, sweet and down-to-earth most of the time. Kutcher and Diaz, whom many would agree have the ability to get on your nerves (see Kutcher in Just Married and Diaz in The Holiday; or better yet, don't see them), are surprisingly tolerable and likable. They're good here because they get us to want their characters to learn a valuable lesson.
Jack is irresponsible and mostly meanders through life on the backs of others. He's a slacker and his father (Treat Williams) has good reason to fire him from his furniture business. Joy is nauseatingly uptight and submissive to other peoples' standards. She'd make a good wife on paper, but her life has become a daily planner, with no sense of spontaneity or, well, joy. Her fiance Mason (Jason Sudeikis) is a jerk, but he dumps her for reasons we can understand.
What's interesting is how Dana Fox's screenplay actually cares about teaching Jack and Joy a lesson about growing up and realizing one's worth. Going into the movie, I expected these characters to be completely cartoony, but the truth of the matter is we've all met a Jack or Joy at one point in our life, so that gave it some credibility.
Of course, the movie abides by all the romantic comedy cliches and conventions, but they feel fresher than usual because of Tom Vaughan's slick direction and the chemistry between the leads. We get the typical "incompatible roommates" scenarios after Joy is forced to move in with Jack, and sure, these moments are predictable, but they're not necessarily exaggerated. Any guy or girl who's ever lived with another girl or guy will find elements of truth here. I doubt any guy would willfully pee in his own kitchen sink (and on his own dishes), but I can believe things like body hair and sharing the bathroom would be a problem.
I enjoyed What Happens in Vegas for what it was and appreciated it more for not sinking too far down to the level of totally outrageous gags that get on your nerves. Even Jack and Joy's race across New York City to their marriage counselor (Queen Latifah) ends up being fun and energetic instead of outlandish and stupid. Speaking of their marriage counselor, the movie's funniest scene takes place when Jack pretends Joy has given him a black eye. The comic timing of this scene pays off especially well thanks to the looks on both Kutcher and Diaz's faces. It won't win either one an Oscar, but it did make me laugh.
What Happens in Vegas isn't a movie you need to see in the theater. You're better off watching it on cable and imagining it's a sitcom. And there are hundreds of other movies you should see before this one, but its light humor eventually wins us over. It's standard comedy, but not completely second-rate.