'What Happens in Vegas'

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A mean-spirited streak is creeping into studio-manufactured rom-coms these days — you know, where someone wants to sabotage his best friend's wedding. This escalates in Fox's "What Happens in Vegas," a film that views marriage as a combat sport.

Forced into a marriage of inconvenience, characters played by Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher come out fighting. They play every dirty trick on each other until, yes, of course, they fall in love. But the film is only interested in the dirty tricks; the love stuff is shrugged off with a sneer.

The comedy will play to undemanding juvenile audiences who only want to see two of Hollywood's bright young things diss each other for 90 minutes. So Fox probably has a modest hit on its hands. And if you're scoring this one, give Diaz a TKO. She's had more experience making fluff stand up, even if it is slightly rancid.

The setup is crudely designed in Dana Fox's screenplay. Two "losers" from New York — an insecure commodities trader who got dumped by her boyfriend and a slacker who got fired by his dad — wind up drunk in Las Vegas with their best pals, played in true second-banana wiseass style by Lake Bell and Rob Corddry. The couple wakes up with a hangover — and a marriage certificate. Each agrees it's all a mistake. Then a coin gets tossed into a slot machine and the "couple" wins $3 million.

A curmudgeon judge (played by perpetually cranky Dennis Miller) refuses to release the money to either member of the pleasure-first generation he despises. Instead, he sentences them to "six months hard marriage" before they can get an annulment and the money.

Most people would spend six months with a skunk for $1.5 million, but no, this sentence unleashes a series of wildly unsuccessful attempts by the unhappily married couple, living in his unkempt flat, to get the other to give up so as to win all the cash. Each attempt is lamely conceived and all too predictable.

British director Tom Vaughan ("Starter for 10") hits each scene too hard, apparently in fear that subtlety counts for nothing with the audience for "Vegas." He might not be wrong. Only Diaz shows spark since the actress knows how to simultaneously play nice and be a nasty character, thereby gaining audience sympathy. Everyone else hits one note, and it isn't nice. (partialdiff)
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