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Whisper the words 'black comedy' if you should ever find yourself straying by Hollywood. More often than not, the genre is box-office poison and the label is avoided by distributors and marketing men alike. On the media trail for the recent Mr and Mrs Smith , cast and crew were reminded to refer to the film as strictly a 'romantic comedy' and ignore the rather crucial aspect that man and wife are assigned to annihilate each other. But what have the general public got against black comedies? Well, simply put, they've been burned in the past. The genre is notoriously difficult to do correctly and the disappointing results are mauled by critics and ignored by cinema-goers.

Very Bad Things
One such example is Very Bad Things. Released in 1998 and starring a post- Swingers Jon Favreau and a post-career Christian Slater, the film failed to find an audience. Seven years later, and the movie has arrived on DVD. Will it find a new lease of life?

Film
Things should be going great for Kyle Fisher (Favreau). In a few short weeks he will be married to Laura (Cameron Diaz) and he's spending his last remaining days of bachelorhood with his best buddies in Las Vegas. There's booze, gambling; and then, suddenly, there's a dead stripper in the hotel bathroom. Despite this being a (mostly) innocent accident, the men are concerned that it wont be perceived that way should the body ever be discovered. Taking charge of the situation, brash but quick thinking Robert Boyd (Slater) comes up with a plan that relies on nerves, determination and a few more murders.

And, while that outline sounds like the opportunity for a deliciously dark comedy, the results are somewhat different. Very Bad Things fails to grab the attention because it's never particularly funny. The catalyst for the plot (the death of the stripper) is directed in a dramatic, rather than darkly comedic, fashion and the events that follow lack any kind of substance. Director Peter Berg can take some of the blame as while this is not an easy genre to master, it relies on just as many moments of subtlety as those of heavy-handed horror. But these faults meet their match in the script which drags its feet to the hour mark and then finally finds some mileage in the situation just as the credits are about to roll.

Very Bad Things
Much of the promise for the film would appear to rest on Christian Slater's shoulders; after all he is no stranger to the genre since his memorable performance as J.D in Heathers, a rare example of a critical success in the black comedy genre. Unfortunately, here Slater is simply going through the motions and the results are a little wearing. Favereau, too, is simply recreating an earlier role; in his case, the likeable everyman from Swingers.

Cameron Diaz is, at least, given something different to do. As the obsessive and slightly nasty Laura, she's allowed a little fun towards the end of the film. It is here, as mentioned above, where the movie takes a turn for the better and begins to revel in the genre as opposed to being inhibited by it. It too late to salvage the film of course, but there is some entertainment here if you're prepared to look for it. As a side note, it is interesting that, in a retrospective bit of marketing, Diaz is now advertised as one of the leads where, in reality, she's missing for large chunks of the movie's runtime. Slater, too, is not quite as prominent as the media men would have us believe. In fact, if we could see the film that they believe they're promoting, we might have a more enjoyable feature.

The lasting effect of Very Bad Things is of a movie that could have been much better. Ultimately, it is too uneven in terms of tone to be truly entertaining. While there are some beautifully dark sequences, far too many of the scenes fall flat. The desperate measures that the men take to cover their tracks can offer a few smiles along the way but there's always the indication that the film isn't quite as daring as it would like to think it is.

Very Bad Things
Video
This is a truly unimpressive transfer making the disc one to avoid if you want to showcase your system. Bits of grime and dirt are presented throughout and the colours seem washed out, bland and lifeless. There are more problems in terms of contrast in the darker sequence with cast members occasionally disappearing within the scenery and black colours never presented particularly well.

Audio
Region one viewers were treated to a 5.1 mix of this movie, but UK buyers will not be as fortunate as the track is a single 2.0 Stereo effort. Fortunately, the movie is not the sort that would ever test your audio setup and, aside from a few of the more action-orientated moments, the scaled-down track can suffice. Dialogue is clear and concise while sound effects are unspectacular but serviceable.

Extras
Despite having seven years to think up a list of imaginative extras, Universal has seen fit to release this disc without one special feature. That's right, not even a hyperbolic trailer and some hastily written cast profiles. In the same degree of laziness, the scene selection divides the movie into just sixteen chapters; nowhere near enough for easy navigation.

Very Bad Things
Overall
It's a puzzler. Why take so long in releasing a film with limited appeal and not even go to the trouble of including one single extra to sweeten the deal?  As it is, those few fans of this movie may actually want to stick with their VHS version as any advantages in digital presentation are neglected. If you decide that this really is worth a purchase, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of the region one version which, at least, has a 5.1 track and a couple of special features.


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