Guilt trip

A thriller with a heavy conscience and a sense of humor.

Thrillers center around innocent people wrongly accused or cool, collected criminals at the top of their game. The innocent and the hardened don't feel guilt, so that emotion isn't often found in movies about crime. Guilt may lurk in the shadows of film noir, but it's rarely brought front and center in all its uncomfortable, anxious awfulness. Very Bad Things is all about guilt, stress, panic, and fear. It's also pretty funny, but halfway through you may stop laughing and wonder why you're sitting through this stomach-churning experience.

Very Bad Things

directed by Peter Berg

starring Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Jon Favreau

For his bachelor party, Kyle (Jon Favreau) heads for Las Vegas with his male buddies, friends his high-maintenance fiancée, Laura (Cameron Diaz), holds in poor regard. And well she should: Kyle and chums snort a lot of cocaine, trash their hotel room, and accidentally kill a prostitute in the bathroom. When a security guard stumbles onto the corpse, he too gets whacked, and both bodies are buried in the desert. The gang agrees to keep this under their hats. But not everyone finds their crimes so easy to live with; one in particular begins to crack, setting off an escalating series of gruesomely comic events.

Things get even worse. More significantly, the characters really feel bad—this isn't some farce where everyone soars blithely through madcap high jinks. With the exception of ringleader Boyd (Christian Slater), these guys feel terrible. This intense level of stress grows remarkably palpable; I found myself squirming in my seat, flashing back on all the things I've ever regretted.

Stress drives the movie's humor. Laura is so focused on the impending ceremony that when Kyle confesses what he's done, she's furious that he's ruining the wedding. She takes over like a military commander, barking orders at her hapless husband-to-be. The gusto of the performances makes it all work: All those bulging eyes, clenched jaws, and rigid muscles are made thoroughly genuine. Even Slater, who's prone to glide through his movies with an aura of cool, seems unusually present; Boyd, through various self-help seminars, has convinced himself that everything he chooses to do is good, but Slater captures something eating at the edges of that self-assurance. Very Band Things is not so absurd that you can shrug it off, but it's gruesome enough that it stretches your sense of reality. That tension will make you laugh or cringe—or, if this is the movie for you, both.

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