Daily Archives: June 24, 2020

Very Bad Things (1998)

*. Sure it’s an easy dig, but I’ll start by saying that Very Bad Things is a very bad movie.
*. It was roundly panned when it came out but has since gone on to collect a handful of supporters. It’s a black comedy, they say, so if you don’t like it that’s because it’s just too strong for your tastes.
*. I don’t think that’s right. I wasn’t offended at all by Very Bad Things. But I also didn’t find it provocative, and I certainly didn’t think any of it was funny. I don’t mean that I found the humour in poor taste. I mean that it wasn’t funny. The end is bitter and ironic in an Ethan Frome sort of way, but aside from Cameron Diaz’s one-dimensional turn as bridezilla there’s nothing I found I could even smile at.
*. I honestly can’t even tell you what I think it was that was supposed to be funny about Very Bad Things. The way everyone starts to crack under the pressure and then scream and fight with each other? The burial scene where the gang toss around the body parts of their victims after Adam unaccountably insists upon adhering to Jewish burial rites? The scene where Adam cracks up when he’s forced by his wife to buy candy for his kids at the gas station? When Michael kills his brother? When Michael tries to hump his sister-in-law at his brother’s funeral? I’m not upset at anything in the premise that this material could be funny. Hell, I’d even say some of it should be funny. But is it?
*. Or take as another example the way Michael keeps saying “Goosed!” at inappropriate moments after killing his brother. This isn’t edgy, dark, mean-spirited or offensive. I think it’s meant to be funny. I mean, why is he repeating the word “Goosed!” like that? But is it a funny line? I don’t think so.
*. Few experiences are as painful as a comedy that isn’t funny. In addition to failing at its primary task such a movie also makes you anxious because you feel like you’re missing something. Was it my fault I wasn’t laughing?
*. Christian Slater is the lone bright spot, in a star turn as a cynical heel. But the part isn’t that well written and it’s peripheral to some incredibly dull leads. I would like to have seen Slater play against Cameron Diaz, whose character matches Boyd’s psychopathy, but it never happens.
*. Whatever happened to Slater anyway? He was big in the 1990s and then kind of fell off the radar. I don’t think he had much range, but in the right parts, like this, he was usually pretty good.
*. Roger Ebert named this one of his worst films of the year for 1998. His review begins like this: “Peter Berg’s Very Bad Things isn’t a bad movie, just a reprehensible one. It presents as comedy things that are not amusing. If you think this movie is funny, that tells me things about you I don’t want to know.”
*. For the reasons I’ve tried to explain, I would reverse this. Very Bad Things isn’t a reprehensible movie (crime, in the end, doesn’t pay), but it is a bad one. Rather than a black comedy I think the best way to view it is as a kind of morality play, but even in this respect it is dull and obvious, ineptly put forward, and not in the least bit interesting.