Blood, guts and general human depravity are alive and well on the big screen in 1998. Viewers have been treated to the combat carnage of "Saving Private Ryan," the gross-out scenery of "There's Something About Mary," the ugly social dysfunction of "Your Friends and Neighbors," the casual perversion of "Happiness" and the hatred and violence of "American History X."
Some of those films have rewarded patient observers with socially redeeming messages. "Very Bad Things," though, is grim for the sake of being grim, an exercise in brutality wrapped in a costume of cool, and a bogus attempt at subversion marked by performances that go way over the top and then fall limply to the ground.
Peter Berg, an actor on TV's Chicago Hope, begins his directorial debut with a promising setup. Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau), an even-tempered stockbroker, heads to Vegas with four buddies for an ultrahedonistic bachelor party.
The crew includes cynical Michael (Jeremy Piven), his frustrated older brother Adam (Daniel Stern), egotistic real-estate agent Robert Boyd (Christian Slater) and introspective mechanic Charles (Leland Orser). The pals may be on their last big adventure: Kyle's fiancee Laura (Cameron Diaz) has declared that her future husband may have to "re-evaluate" his friendships.
The fellows load up in a minivan for a funny session of wisecracking, politically incorrect insults and arguments. Once at their destination they begin a long session of drinking, snorting cocaine, carrying on stoner conversations, breaking furniture and cavorting with an Asian-American stripper (real-life porn star Kobe Tai, a.k.a. Carla Scott).
Early on, the movie points to a not-unpleasant blend of "Diner" and "Swingers," with an undercurrent of men-on-a-mission images reminiscent of "Reservoir Dogs."
Then Michael accidentally bangs the hooker's head against the wall during some rough sex. How will these purportedly well-adjusted friends avoid jail, scandal or worse?
Here's where "Very Bad Things" begins to fall apart. Slater, following the script's willy-nilly descent into irrationality, suddenly turns his character into the group's own personal Nazi. Characterizations flip over without much logic, murders multiply and horrible auto crashes take their toll. Berg, fecklessly hoping for a black-humor effect, attempts to maintain a light-comic tone, but the results fall flat.
A coda involving an increasingly shrewish Laura feels completely tacked on. A promising start peters out into sheer inanity.