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November 25, 1998 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1998-11-25

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8 - The Michigan Daily -Wednesday, November 25, 1998

Very great film succeeds

By Erin Podosky
Daily Arts Writer
I imagine that Peter Berg has
bumper stickers plastered all over his
office, anid one of them says, "Friends
help you move. Real friends help you
movie bodies." That pithy little maxim
could easily have been the inspiration
for Berg's off-the-wall, off-the-charts
writing and directorial debut, "Very
Bad Things" - inspiration and then
some.
"Very Bad Things" features a dead
prostitute, a dead security guard, a
dead minivan and various other dead
entities all before it reaches the
- halfway mark. After the halfway

Very Bad
Things
At Showcase

mark? You
guessed it, more
dead stuff. And
there are no ifs,
ands or buts
about the dead,
presented in full
gory glory.
Kyle (Jon
Favreau) is going
to his bachelor
party in Las
Vegas with four
of his best
friends, brothers
Adam (Daniel
Stern) and
Piven), Moore

understatement, and this wedding
turns out to be anything but white. The
bachelor party takes place in a Las
Vegas hotel suite and is a magnificent-
ly visualized masterpiece that sets the
tone for "Very Bad Things." Real
estate pit bull Boyd calls in his
favorite stripper who for a little extra
will go the distance to the bedroom.
The night is filled with drinking,
drugs and boys-will-be-boys scuffling
as they administer a trashing to the
suite that would make Axl Rose
proud. Berg shoots partially in slow
motion with close-ups and canted
angles; pro wrestling plays in the
background, the soundtrack pulses,
and Michael disappears into the bath-
room for a little one-on-one with the
stripper.
Minutes later, the word "hooker"
has taken on a whole new definition.
Bathrooms are dangerous places.
Before the boys can clean up the
bloody mess, a hotel security guard
shows up to investigate the ruckus.
Boyd takes him out with a corkscrew
and claims it was for the good of the
group.
He then herds the whimpering,
sobered crew to the local Kmart where
they walk the aisles carrying mops as
if they were sabers, buzz saws and
hazard suits - a bunch of janitorial
regulators on the job. Everything
seems to be going OK as they turn the
trashed suite pristine again. They pack
up the body parts in a couple of suit-
cases and prepare to do some deep
digging in the desert.
Use your imagination to figure out
what happens next. Suffice it to say
that the sick laughs start here and then
just keep coming, an endless
onslaught of bloodcurdling amuse-

ment that Berg revels in constructing.
If you've seen his work on the produc-
tion side of things in "Chicago Hope,"
you know what kind of madness to
expect; if you haven't, prepare to
either love or hate "Very Bad Things."
It is a movie of extremes and is not for
the faint of heart or weak of mind.
Berg uses every trick in the book of
bloody silence and cover-up and then
invents a few more, each one more
outrageous than the next.
Unfortunately, the movie suffers
from its own penchant for gory
excess. The bachelor party is so inte-
gral, so excessive yet perfect in every
way that Berg spends the rest of the
film trying to top his own handiwork,
never pausing to accept what he has
done early on as the epitome of his
work. It might not have been the high-
light of the movie if Berg had taken a
step back and ended his one-upman-
ship before it got out of control.
Nothing escapes Berg's rabid eye of
wit - not hookers, not weddings, and
not even handicapped kids who are
"one crutch away from a telethon."
"Very Bad Things" doesn't deserve
the jokes its title invites, as it is actu-
ally a very, very good thing. But it
could have been very great if only it
had been a little more funny or a little
less bloody. The good things, though,
far outweigh the bad and mark Berg as
a talent to watch in the future.
Favreau is effective as the cowed
fiancee whose marriage plans are
under serious duress. Piven is his
usual wisecracking, entertaining self.
Orser is pretty much a non-entity.
Only Stern manages to cover new
ground and reinvent himself as a rav-
ing, basically good man whose con-
science is tested by the crime he is

Courtesy of Polygram Films
Cameron Diaz stars as the overanxious bride in the dark comedy "Very Bad
Things." The film opens today at theaters everywhere.

Michael (Jeremy

(Leland Orser) and Boyd (Christian
Slater). Kyle just wants to get through
the night; his control-freak wife-to-be,
Laura (Cameron Diaz) just wants him
to remember to write the checks to the
caterer and the wedding hall and the
band and the florist and try not to
screw anything up in her perfectly
planned white wedding.
To say that Kyle screws up is an

forced to hide. His character might
fail that test, but Stern passes with fly-
ing colors. Slater is in top form repris-
ing his "Heathers" role, borrowing a
little from that movie and Joe Pesci in
"Goodfellas" to paint the motivational
tape mantra-spewing Boyd as a friend
that nobody would really want to have
in a pinch.
The true prize, other than Peter
Berg's work behind the camera, is the
performance given by Cameron Diaz.
"Very Bad Things" is a study in how
much stress one human can take, and
the ultimate stress victim is the most
unlikely one of all, the one character
who had zilch to do with the original
sin of the boys. Her so-light-they're-
dark scenes are something to look for-

ward to during those long, dark,
bloody sequences filled with gristle
and gore. She works the flip-side of
her "My Best Friend's Wedding" per-
sona and stops at nothing to get that
perfect wedding. At times I wondered
if perhaps she wasn't better suited to
Boyd, but one of the film's many
semi-climaxes nixes that idea. Either
way, Diaz is excellent and deserves
recognition.
"Very Bad Things" has a high body
count and a carnage factor that would
put Quentin Tarantino to shame. Some
of it is shameless, some of it is funny,
and by the time things are over it
seems like more bodies have been
moved than words said. But hey -
what are friends for?

Announcing a store where you can't try anything on. The Levi's* Online Store. w iviccm

Murky
plot halts'
epic tae
Into the Wilderness 4
Sara Donati
Bantam Books
**
Welcome to the melodrama for-
est. Like many works of historical
fiction, "Into the Wilderness" by
Sara Donati, struggles to find its
way through the woods of overused
plots and character types prevalent
in historical fiction. Its main char-
acters, Elizabeth and Nathaniel,
though charming in their own right,
could have just as easily starred in
"Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."
Fresh off the boat from England
with ambitions of teaching school,
Elizabeth Middleton quickly real-
izes that the rustic New York village
her father calls home is anything
but the paradise for which it is
named.
By page six, her father has
already shot her love interest and
the villainous nature of her brother
has been revealed. Elizabeth is
fiercely independent and quickly
fixes her eye on a fur trapper,
Nathaniel Bonner, who was raised
by Native Americans, both as an
ally and as a lover.
Donati uses Elizabeth to address
virtually every humanitarian and
civil rights cause available in 1792
America.
First, Elizabeth must assert her
independence as a woman and
defeat her father's attempts to
marry her to the town doctor.
Second, Elizabeth goes on a one-
woman crusade to ensure that every
child in the village, including the
slave children, receive an educa-
tion.
Finally, Elizabeth fights to save
the rights and culture of the Native
Americans.
With so many plots happening at
once, none of these issues gets the
attention it deserves and the story
degenerates into mediocrity.
Donati's strength lies in the
delightful, and often witty, charac-
ter dialogue and her vivid descrip-
tions. Hence, the reader develops a
real affection for some of the off-
beat characters like the blushing
Scottish woodsman Robbie
MacLachlan. Donati does some-
times sacrifices the most likeable
traits of her characters for the plot.
For instance, as the story contin-
ues Elizabeth seems to trade her
independent spunk for a more
matronly appearance. The reader is
left wondering why she cannot be
both an activist and a contented
wife and mother.
It is something of a paradox that
a book which calls itself historical
fiction could never actually have
taken place.
The unlikely romance between
Elizabeth and Nathaniel is only the
starting point. But avid readers of
historical fiction will appreciate the
well-researched backdrop, appeal-
ing characters, and the potential for
sequels.
"Into the Wilderness" takes on a
lot for a first effort, but somewhere
within the murky and ambitious

story lies the beginnings of an epic_
- Kelly Lutes
"Don't look like a
TURKE

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