It’s in the stars

Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher are delightful in new romantic comedy.

By Bill Zwecker on May 8, 2008

There’s kind of an unwritten rule about romantic comedies that is pretty much a given. No matter how formulaic the script or pedestrian the direction or even how silly the basic premise, if the audience falls in love with the main stars as much as the characters are supposed to fall for each other, then the films work.

They might not be a When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle or Pretty Woman, but over the years a number of films like Runaway Bride and Notting Hill have fallen into that tolerably enjoyable category — entirely due to the appeal of their stars.

That’s the case with What Happens in Vegas. Without question, there is not much new here in terms of plot or overall concept, but thank goodness for Cameron Diaz and especially Ashton Kutcher. These two actors let us in on what is simply a fun-filled romp, and it’s a cinematic ride that will leave you with a smile on your face.

In this summer of escapism — and what summer movie season isn’t? — Vegas provides us with 99 minutes of relief from the woes of the war in Iraq and the unending presidential campaign. Though likely not a film you’ll remember a month after seeing it, it hits most of the right notes for a good date flick.

Part of the lack of originality here lies with that age-old film concept of throwing together two total opposites, making them impulsively fall in love (or at least in lust), and then throwing a metaphorical bucket of water on them before resolving it all in the end of the third act.

Diaz plays Joy, a high-powered, high-maintenance, career-focused New York commodities trader who is on the verge of a major promotion at her firm. She’s vying with another woman to become the first female added to the upper rungs of the company’s management team.

Suddenly, her uptight financier fiancé (Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live) dumps her in a particularly embarrassing way: standing in the doorway of their apartment’s vestibule not knowing all their friends are lurking behind Joy in the darkened living room, at the surprise birthday party she’s organized for him.

Totally depressed, Joy’s best pal, Tipper (Lake Bell), talks her into going to Las Vegas. After all, what better place to totally lose oneself, party madly and push those feelings of unhappiness right out the door. And before you can say “Craps!” the two gal pals are winging their way to Sin City.

The flip side of all this, of course, is the story of Jack Fuller (Kutcher), a true party animal and underachieving slacker, who thinks his job is secure because he works for his father’s furniture manufacturing company. Wrongo! After one too many on-the-job screwups, Jack’s dad (Treat Williams) challenges him to a little one-on-one basketball game — with Jack’s job hanging in the balance. When he loses to his father, Jack is out the door, despite the family connection. Call it a fairly predictable example of “tough love.”

Jack naturally heads to Vegas with HIS best friend, Steve “Hater” Hader, a yet-to-be-truly-tried attorney, played hilariously by Rob Corddry. No big surprise, Joy and Jack hook up in a Vegas bar, leading to a night filled with WAY too much alcohol, fueling a lot of dancing, gambling and major partying in general.

The next morning the two find themselves in bed, but there’s a little twist: Joy quickly discovers a tacky wedding ring on her left hand. The two had tied the knot in a quickie Vegas wedding chapel, but that’s no biggie. Joy and Jack clearly see they couldn’t be more different, and immediately agree to get that marriage annulled — almost before the ink is dry on the license.

Things get complicated — which gives this film its only hook — when after a somewhat testy chat (and Joy walking away), Jack throws a quarter she gave him into a slot machine, which hits a $3 million jackpot. Naturally, it becomes a battle of who really has the rights to the new-found fortune. As Jack’s “wife,” Joy certainly believes she’s entitled to half, especially since she exclaims, “That was MY quarter!” that hit the jackpot.

Back in New York, the two find themselves in court, where the conservative judge (intriguingly cast with Dennis Miller in the role) sets down some firm guidelines. He refuses to grant them a fast divorce and split the moolah. Instead, he demands they live together for six months, see a family therapist (Queen Latifah) and then come back to court. Whoever opts out of that arrangement and leaves, loses the cash. Since Joy had been living with her fiancé, she’s forced to move into Jack’s predictably sloppy bachelor pad.

The remainder of the film follows the couple and their schemes to force each other’s hand — leading them to give in and forfeit the money. Yet in the end ... I’m sure you’ll know what happens.

Diaz is a delight here, but this is Ashton Kutcher’s film. He’s funny as hell, but also jumps off the screen as the most appealing of leading men when the role calls for that. It’s a shame these two talented comedic actors didn’t have a stronger vehicle to help drive the laughs.

What Happens in Vegas

Two 1/2 stars

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher and Rob Corddry

Director: Tom Vaughan

Rated: PG-13 for some sexual and crude content, and language, including a drug reference

Theaters: Century Olympia, Galaxy Uptown Theatre, Lakewood Cinema 15, Lakewood Towne Center 12, Longston Place 14, Regal Martin Village 16 Yelm Cinemas @ Prairie Park