Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Peter Berg
Stars: Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jeremy Piven, Leland Orser, Joey Zimmerman, Tyle Malinger, Russell B McKenzie, Lawrence Pressman.

While Very Bad Things shares a similar moral to A Simple Plan, it is ultimately a vastly different film. This grim black comedy looks at how normally ordinary people can commit atrocious acts and then be torn apart by their guilty conscience. However, debut writer/director Peter Berg (from Chicago Hope, etc) relentlessly pushes the pitch black material down a vastly different path. This uncompromising and brutal film about murder and mayhem is pervaded with an air of cynicism, misogyny, and delicious black humour, the like of which has rarely been seen in mainstream cinema.
A week before his wedding, Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau, from Swingers) heads off to Las Vegas with four buddies for a wild bachelor party. It’s an orgy of drink and cocaine and male bonding, taken to excess. The weekend takes a turn for the worse following the arrival of the stripper. During some energetic sex in the bathroom with the callow Michael (Jeremy Piven), she ends up impaled on a hook. While everyone else panics, sleazy real estate agent Robert Boyd (Christian Slater) takes charge, suggesting that they bury the body in the desert. The simple plan does not go smoothly and before long the body count is steadily rising.

When the five men return to Los Angeles, their uneasy sense of guilt begins to consume them, and eventually explodes into hysteria and anarchy, disrupting the smooth wedding plans. The former friends turn on each other with a frightening and unexpected ferocity. Sibling rivalries and old jealousies boil over into murder, and they all pay a hefty price for their sins.

Very Bad Things takes a number of unexpected and macabre turns before the final sting in the tail. Berg has a jaundiced view of human nature, and he unerringly strips away the thin veneer of middle class urban values and ethics. He maintains a delicate balance between outright farce and psychological drama. The humour is often quite uncomfortable and vicious, and will not be to everyone’s taste.

The opening scenes are handled somewhat awkwardly. However, Berg quickly hits his stride, and directs this inventive, but uncharacteristic and uncomfortably black comedy with assurance. The ensemble cast throw themselves into their unsympathetic characters with relish, their frenetic performances capturing the spirit of the material.

An often manic and mannered performer, Slater has rarely been so perfectly cast. His intense performance captures the demonic, unscrupulous and completely amoral Boyd, who doesn’t hesitate to act when he recognises his smoothly laid plans beginning to unwind. Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary, etc) is also good as Laura, Kyle’s tightly wound fiancée, who becomes increasingly neurotic as the wedding approaches. Laura is so desperate to ensure that her wedding proceeds without a hitch that she eventually becomes as morally bankrupt as everyone else around her. Her performance reveals an often unexplored nasty side to her usually sweet screen demeanour. Daniel Stern (Home Alone, etc) brings plenty of shrill nervous energy to his role as the family man who succumbs to his feelings of guilt and paranoia, and finally snaps under the mounting pressure.

Very Bad Things is decidedly nasty stuff, but those attuned to its perverse wavelength will also find much to enjoy.

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