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Very Bad Things

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Watching Very Bad Things, it's almost impossible not to be overwhelmed by this thought: Has it really come to this? Has the ironic nihilistic cool aesthetic popularized by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction (and nicely disavowed within the same movie) really been reduced to the sight of Christian Slater continuing his decade-long Jack Nicholson tribute act in front of a hotel bathroom drenched in the blood of a hooker with a clothes-hook in back of her head? Apparently, yes, although it's possible to take comfort in the thought that VBT is the sort of movie that usually gets quietly shuttled off to the video shelves. But for some reason—maybe it's the shock value of a large amount of blood and gore—actor Peter Berg's writing and directorial debut has gotten media attention and a puzzling amount of undeserved praise. Husky, nervous Jon Favreau heads a cast of usually likable character actors, including Daniel Stern and Jeremy Piven, as a man soon to be wed to a shrill, annoying Cameron Diaz. On a bachelor party road-trip to Las Vegas, things go terribly awry. To say more would spoil things a bit, so here goes: Once there, they accidentally kill a hooker, intentionally kill a security guard, and bury their bodies in the desert. They then return home and commence killing each other in a series of increasingly similar, decreasingly amusing vignettes, each executed with the sort of wit usually associated with the lesser efforts of the Troma studio. Berg repeats one trick ad nauseam: staging scenes of actors shouting at one another at an increasing volume, usually accompanied by an ironically chosen song, culminating in an act of lovingly depicted violence. It's a junior-high version of black comedy made all the more uncomfortable by the queasy sense that there's moralizing at its heart. Berg's sole purpose seems to be to mete out punishment for characters he finds contemptible, which is essentially every last cartoonish one of them, including the sexually amoral businessman, the stereotypically stingy (and possibly gay) Jew, and the castrating woman. It's a worthless bit of low-grade satire that's as sophisticated and entertaining as a pile of twigs. With any luck, it'll be met with the deafening silence usually associated with its direct-to-video peers.