Very Bad Things
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Christian Slater (Robert Boyd), Cameron Diaz (Laura Garrety), Jon Favreau (Kyle Fisher), Jeremy Piven (Michael Berkow), Daniel Stern (Adam Berkow), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Lois Berkow), Leland Orser (Charles Moore), Joey Zimmerman (Adam Berkow Jr.), Tyler Cole Malinger (Timmy Berkow), Kobe Tai (Tina), Russell B. McKenzie (Security Guard)
After seeing Peter Berg's outrageously raunchy black comedy "Very Bad Things," I was unsure exactly what the title was referring to. Are the "things" in the title referring to the acts committed by the characters in the film, or are the "things" the characters themselves? Because, after all, once you sit through this film, I think you'll agree that not a single character can be described as "human." They are ... things, and very bad ones at that.
The central idea lurking beneath the grotesque surface of "Very Bad Things" is that we are all capable of the worst sort of human behavior. The various atrocities depicted here are committed by people who, on the outside, seem like decent, normal, everyday Americans. They all have jobs. They're all clean-cut. One is married and has two children, another is about to get married. However, from the opening moments of the film, every scene is a trip down a fast escalator into the seamy netherworlds of human depravity, and the soulless evil that lurks beneath every three-piece suit in America.
Oh, and did I mention this is a comedy? Definitely a black comedy ... the blackest sort. In fact, as I have heard and read from numerous sources, many find it particularly offensive and hate it, and they're not wrong. "Very Bad Things" is the kind of movie that polarizes both audiences and critics; either you let yourself get caught up in its outrageously cynical and often humorous view of the human condition, or you hold back and observe every last, dripping detail as one moral offense after another. I'm not saying either position is better than the other, because they're both perfectly valid. However, I will admit that I allowed myself to get caught up in its blood-soaked parody of the American dream, and thus found myself laughing at things I normally would cringe at.
The film opens with a shot of Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau), who is about to be married, and Charles Moore (Leland Orser), who is one of his groomsmen. Twitching and jittery, they both look extremely nervous and upset, much more so than men usually look before entering a chapel for wedding vows. Then the film flashes back a few days earlier and begins to spin the tale that explains why Kyle and Charles are so unstrung.
Kyle is engaged to marry Laura Garrety (Cameron Diaz), a spoiled princess who is determined to have the perfect wedding, no matter what it takes. "For the last 27 years, I have focused on walking down that aisle," she proclaims, and the hysteria in Diaz's performance lets us know she means it. However, before the Big Day, Kyle is taken to Las Vegas for a blow-out bachelor party. Along with Charles, his friends include Robert Boyd (Christian Slater), a slick real estate agent who turns out to be the closet psychotic of the group; Michael Berkow (Jeremy Piven), one of Kyle's co-workers who seems to be angry at the entire world; and Michael's uptight, married brother, Adam (Daniel Stern).
After a binge night of boozing, snorting coke, and gambling, the partiers retire to a hotel room with a stripper/prostitute (Kobe Tai). Unfortunately, while engaging in some rough sex in the bathroom, Michael inadvertently impales her head on a towel hook on the wall. And, from there, it's all downhill.
"There are always options," Boyd says, looking at the body. "Take away the horror, take away about the morality, and what's left? A 105-pound problem." That 105-pound problem balloons into about a 305-pound problem when Boyd kills a hotel security guard who discovers the stripper's body. First-time writer/director Berg (best known as an actor on TV's "Chicago Hope") then takes us through the gory details as the five men dismember the two bodies with electric saws, wrap the pieces in plastic, pack them up in suitcases, and bury them out in the desert.
After that, they plan on returning back to their normal lives with business as usual, but it's not so easy. All five men begin to crumble in their own ways, proving that Boyd's earlier point was wrong: at least for the majority of us, we can't "take away the horror and the morality" because it's inextricably intertwined with evil deeds. What they were faced with was much more than "a 105-pound problem," and the weight of this begins to bear down on the men, especially Adam, who was the most reluctant of the group. Daniel Stern makes Adam into an ultra-paranoid, wide-eyed nervous wreck, and there is one great scene at a gas station where he is sure that everyone there knows what he did and is watching him.
Meanwhile, Boyd is still trying to maintain control of the situation, but his notion of maintaining control has a body count. Kyle is still trying to get married, and he's finding it hard and harder to exlain to Laura the bizarre behavior of he and his groomsmen. Each scene in the film builds upon the previous scene, and we begin to understand that the burying of two bodies in the desert was just the beginning of these characters' immoral potential. In fact, that was the catalyst, and some of their worst choices occur later down the road.
Ironically enough, in the end, "Very Bad Things" is a moral movie. It is moral in that it depicts--in an admittedly outlandish manner that is akin to caricature--horrible human acts committed by ordinary people, and every single one of them gets what's coming to him or her in the end. Much of the justice in this film is bitter, cold, and sardonic; thus, for these characters, it's also quite fitting. So, in the end, we're left with a sense--a kind of wheezy, giddy, and perhaps somewhat nauseated sense--that we've just witnessed the worst humanity has to offer, and the worst will be punished.
©1998 James Kendrick