Color, 1998, 100 mins.

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jeremy Piven, Leland Orser / Produced by Michael Schiffer, Diane Nabatoff & Cindy Cowan / Music by Stewart Copeland / Cinematography by David Hennings

Format: DVD - Polygram (MSRP $29.99)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

Black comedy is a very tricky balancing act, and as the violently opposed critical reaction of Very Bad Things demonstrates, even a successful one can't please everybody. First time director Peter Berg (best known as an actor in TV's Chicago Hope and the cult noir favorite, The Last Seduction) displays a truly warped side of his personality here, and the absence of any likable characters may account for why many viewers expecting a jaunty gross-out fest like There's Something About Mary went flying for the exit doors.

Kyle (Swingers' Jon Favreau) decides to head out to Vegas with four of his buddies for a wild bachelor party, much to the disapproval of his wedding-obsessed fiancee, Laura (Cameron Diaz). Kyle's friends hire a hooker who offers to go way beyond topless dancing, and one of the guests (Piven) drags the girl off to the bathroom for a cocaine-hazed sexual frenzy that winds up with the hooker dead on the floor. After another gruesome twist, the boys all wind up with a bloody mess on their hands and decide to dispose of it thanks to a few shovels and a barren stretch of desert land. Unfortunately, the truth can't stay buried for long as the five wind up backbiting each other and threatening to expose their deadly secret. In particular, married man Daniel Stern threatens to crack up, much to the distress of his tough-as-nails wife (Basic Instinct's Jeanne Tripplehorne). Worst of all, Slater, essentially doing a variation on his Jason Dean character from Heathers after a few too many self-starter courses, decides that murder is the fastest and easiest way to tie up all the loose ends...

Bloody hip comedies in the post-Tarantino era can easily sink under the weight of their pretension without a strong script and cast to hold them up (Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, for example), but fortunately Very Bad Things boasts a terrific ensemble of actors who wring each gory chuckle for all they're worth. Diaz in particular has a field day with what begins as a thankless part but manages to take an unexpected, deliciously nasty turn, and Tripplehorne threatens to steal the entire film with a raging freak-out scene that easily kicks her career back into overdrive after the debacle of Waterworld. Favreau is saddled with the most difficult part, a character who doesn't really do anything overtly horrible but becomes completely implicated by his willingness to go along with the increasing number of evil deeds piling up around him. Like with the similarly themed Jawbreaker, this is a queasy but ultimately satisfying warped comedy whose reputation will hopefully improve on video.

Polygram's DVDs have shown a marked improvement recently, and this is no exception. The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks terrific, particularly during the neon-soaked Vegas scenes, and the spacious Dolby Digital mix makes inventive use of background music swirling around the exterior channels throughout the film. The letterboxed version is really the only way to go, since it looks much better than the pan-and-scan version also offered on the DVD (surprisingly, this was shot hard-matted at 1.85:1 and is not opened up to full frame). The DVD also includes filmographies for the major players, an alternate Dolby Surround track in English, Dolby Digital in French, and the original U.S. trailer (which gives away far, far too much).

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