This Friday a new comedy about drunken debauchery leading to detrimental decisions in Las Vegas opens, starring none other than the poster children for bad decisions (at least where picking scripts is concerned), Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. What Happens in Vegas is the story of a man and a woman each in Vegas to drink and gamble away different troubles but find themselves married overnight. A quickie divorce would follow, but Kutcher wins big on a slot machine, and Diaz decides, as his wife, she’s entitled to half. Crazy scenarios ensue.What Happens in Vegas is not the first (nor will it probably be the last) of its retched stereotypical formula that should have taken a lead from its title and stayed there-- perhaps getting a limited release in the city in which it takes place but absolutely not being unleashed on the general public.
Pay it Forward (Warner Brothers, 2000) is not your typical flashy Vegas film, choosing instead to focus on a young boy (Haley Joel Osmont) and his quest to change the world by doing good deeds for three separate individuals with the hope that they, in turn, will do good things for three people, and so on and so on. While director Mimi Leder had a nice idea of showing an alternative side to a town known for a few very specific things, her execution of the storytelling is severely contrived, especially when she brings Osmont’s teacher and mother together in an exaggerated situation just to continually preach the film’s message. Perhaps it is because most are expecting a more cynical world to come out of such a town, but none of the overly sensitive characters, nor none of the extremely sappy events, in Pay it Forward are believable to exist outside of the fictionalized world appearing on-screen.
Las Vegas is home to its fair share of ridiculous-sounding conventions and sporting events, but an arm wrestling championship might be the most “out there” one of all. In Over The Top (Warner Brothers, 1987), however, that is exactly for what Sylvester Stallone travels to Vegas, though. A truck driver with a gravely ill wife at home, he makes the road trip with his estranged son, determined to win the title and take home the grand prize money in order to buy a brand new truck. Director Menahem Golan tries to marry the drama and action genres in Over The Top but falls flat in part due to the inane expositional dialogue but also due to the exceptional talent his actors needed-- but severely lacked-- to get to those emotional places.
Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (Walt Disney Pictures, 1992), the sequel to 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, picks the Szalinski family up with Wayne (Rick Moranis) attempting to fix an enlarging machine in the lab at which he works. Accidentally, though, his oldest son zaps his baby brother, and any time Adam (Daniel and Joshua Shalikar) gets near an electrical power source, such as the microwave, he begins to grow. With such a farfetched (and far from original) plotline, most likely director Randal Kleiser intended to rely on the imagery of Godzilla that Adam’s appearance should have evoked as he lumbers down the Vegas strip, but sadly, the FX of the day don’t even hold up, and the result is just laughable. Even Adam is shown with a gap-toothed grin as he “terrorizes” the tourists.
Ralph Bakshi’s half live-action, half animated (and half-baked) Cool World (Paramount Pictures, 1992) unbelievably stars Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger and tells the story of a cartoonist who somehow lands in the animated world that he created… but remains human in all sense of the definition while there. The film gets even more outlandish and off-track when one of his characters seduces him with the hopes of jumping off the page and into the real world. Originally, Cool World was set to be a much darker tale set in the underground world of Vegas, but when mainstream producers rejected the idea of a horror film about a half-human, half-cartoon girl who sets out to kill the man who made her such a freak, Bakshi compromised the original vision, and a two-dimensional, unfocused mess was born. It’s the kind of Roger Rabbit rip-off that might be fun if the audience is intoxicated… but that should never be a prerequisite for viewing!
And of course no list of train-wreck films (regardless of in which city they may take place) can be complete without the inclusion of Showgirls (MGM, 1995). Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Showgirls boasts an official plot summary of “a young drifter wanders into Las Vegas and climbs the social ladder from stripper to showgirl.” Most likely hoping to capitalize on Elizabeth Berkley’s star turn (she was once destined for typecasting as a brainiac ingénue due to her long-time role on the tween sensation Saved By The Bell), the filmmakers of Showgirls created a project that reflects, and ultimately glorifies, Vegas’ seedy side. Though the script holds some serious, and at the time still-controversial issues, such as interracial relationships and homosexuality, the gratuitous nudity and simulated sex dominate screen time, making a mockery of any political statement that perhaps should have been attempted in order to have Showgirls considered a legitimate and relevant piece of cinematic (and Vegas) history instead of the comic joke it has become.
Admittedly there are a handful of very clever and unique films to crawl out of the superfluous glitz of such a frenetic town. 1995’s Casino, 1996’s Swingers, and both the 1960 original and 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, for example, boast witty dialogue and genuine character moments. Unfortunately for the majority of the list, any substance to the stories just gets buried under the bright lights, serving to as just a typical Vegas get-rich-quick-scheme for their producers.