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Very Bad Things
cast: Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Daniel Stern, Cameron Diaz, and Jeanne Tripplehorn

director: Peter Berg

96 minutes (18) 2004 widescreen ratio 16:9
Universal DVD Region 2 retail
[released 15 August]

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Comedy doesn't come much blacker than this. An incredibly assured directorial debut from actor Peter Berg, and crammed to the nines with some of the best actors and actresses of their generation, this is one of the most frenzied, violent and darkly funny comedies in years.

Jon Favreau stars as Kyle Fisher, a man on the verge of getting married to Laura Garrity (Cameron Diaz). Kyle's a nice, solid, dependable guy and when his friends take him to Las Vegas for a stag weekend he has no intention of doing anything too bad. Which of course means the entire weekend is crammed full of booze, drugs, gambling and strippers. It's all going well too until Michael (Piven) accidentally kills the stripper whilst having sex with her. Then the security guard at the hotel arrives and all hell breaks loose...

With a cast this talent Berg was always going to be on a winner and it's no surprise that the performances are so uniformly good. Favreau, the king of the slow burn, is on top form here as the good man put under ever more pressure. It's a tough role, with Kyle spending most of the film as the foil to the increasingly demented other characters but he pulls it off effortlessly.

Jeremy Piven and Daniel Stern are equally impressive as the Berkow brothers, whose different responses to the death in Vegas powers most of the rest of the film. Stern in particular is great as Adam, a good family man who simply collapses under the weight of the awful things he's done. Piven, another superlative character actor, is the perfect foil for him and his increasing incoherence gives the second half of the film much of its comedy.

Diaz, and Jeanne Tripplehorn also impress, with Diaz in particular showing a depth and spikiness to her performance not seen since the excellent The Last Supper. As Laura she goes from decent but manipulative to near deranged without ever making the change seem forced. Likewise, Tripplehorn does well as Stern's wife and emerges as the most likeable character in the film, more concerned with keeping her family together than the increasingly frantic waltz of murder and opportunity that everyone else is caught up in.

However, Charitian Slater once again steals the show. His Robert Boyd is a true comedy monster, spouting self help inanities even as he's stabbing someone to death or, covered in blood and surrounded by people who've just seen one of their best friends die, proclaiming how much love there is in the car. Endlessly plausible, articulate and clearly completely insane this is the best Slater's been in years.

With this stunning cast at its core, the film veers constantly and effortlessly from comedy to abject horror. Very few movies could make a scene where its characters buy tools to dispose of dead bodies funny and even fewer could make a bride beating someone around the head with a candlestick even funnier but this does. It's a queasy, uncertain type of comedy, the sort that hovers constantly on the edge of being horror but comedy it certainly is.

Superbly acted, written and directed this is the best black comedy of the last decade. It's not for the squeamish but if you can stomach it there's a lot to enjoy here.

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