"What Happens in Vegas" follows the standard romcom design, giving us two funny, neurotic people who are in love with each other but don't know it. But by being a smidge smarter than the average date movie, it makes the first-time meeting, the battle of the sexes and the bumpy course of true love entertaining despite overfamiliarity.
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Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher are New Yorkers in need of a change. Ambitious Wall Street trader Joy (Diaz) has just been dumped in front of all her friends by her self-involved boyfriend. Slacker man-child Jack (Kutcher) has been shown the door at the family woodworking business by his own father.
Eager to forget their sorrows, they each zoom off to Sin City for a weekend of debauchery, where they meet, pound back kamikaze shots and marry just for the sheer drunken hell of it. Hungover, remorseful and awake to their utter incompatibility the next day, they resolve to divorce immediately. Then Jack uses Joy's quarter in a slot machine, wins a $3 million jackpot, and she insists the relationship is back on -- until there can be a division of assets in court.
Since these events occur in a parallel universe of romantic contrivance, they land in the court of a judge (grouchy Dennis Miller) who threatens to freeze their bank account unless they make an attempt to save the relationship. With regular visits to a court-appointed relationship therapist, the judge sentences the accidental couple to "six months' hard marriage."
This sets the stage for a Gatling-gun spray of gags in which Jack and Joy try to drive one another into leaving the marriage, thus forfeiting the Vegas windfall. She invites a bevy of bimbos to their place, aiming to get photographic evidence of him breaking the marriage vows. His brand of sabotage involves bodily fluids, booby-trapped toilets and popcorn seasoned with pubic hair.
The contemporary formula of bad taste for the guys and underlying sweetness for the girls is used to good effect here. The crass gags are leavened with moments of endearing sentiment as the battling couple gradually begin to see each other's good qualities.
The quality of the acting is generally high, especially Rob Corddry's appearance as Jack's goofball best friend and lawyer. Diaz and Kutcher are likable screen presences, and their dewy-eyed glances set the cute meter on high.
They also operate well within their comfort zones. Her role relies a lot on her being gorgeous, while he gets to indulge in the sort of rude antics that made for good episodes of "Punk'd." Joy's orderly approach to life convinces Jack to take his career as a furnituremaker seriously, and his sense of fun persuades her boss that she's not a soulless grind, and therefore worthy of a big promotion.
As they begin to set aside their selfishness and warm to each other, you can almost sense the widening smiles in the audience. After "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," is there really a need for another movie about an adolescent man redeemed by the love of a pulled-together woman? As long as people need to believe in the power of love and happy endings, the answer is probably yes.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186