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The odds couple.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS

20th Century Fox

Directed by Tom Vaughan

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry

What Happens in Vegas" leads to neo-screwball comedy in New York, and the result is an undemandingly diverting and exceptionally commercial pic that should click with its target 25-and-under demo, and probably woo respectable numbers of older ticketbuyers as well. Shrewdly positioned by Fox as counter-programming to the early summer flash and filigree of "Iron Man" and "Speed Racer," this two-seated star vehicle for top-billed Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz wrings a respectable number of laughs from a formulaic scenario about attracted-opposites who bicker and back-stab their way toward happily-ever-aftering.

Some trend-conscious wags won't be able to resist describing "Vegas" as Judd Apatow Lite, since it's about a self involved slacker who becomes more directed and/or responsible as a result of his relationship with a more mature woman. But, really, that set-up already had whiskers long before Apatow became a brand name.

In fact, the roots of this new pie can be traced back to screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s. The big difference--well, OK, one of several big differences--between "Vegas" and those fast-paced comedy classics is that "Vegas" actually becomes more enjoyable as it tamps down the over-the-top helter-skelter of its early scenes.

Dana Fox's screenplay pivots on impulsive decisions by two dissimilar New Yorkers to vacation in Las Vegas. Jack Fuller (Kutcher), a party hearty under-achiever, takes this trip as a reward to himself after being fired by his father (Treat Williams) from a furniture-manufacturing job. Joy McNally (Diaz), a stressed-for-success commodities trader, flies to Sin City to salve her bruised ego after being dumped by her fiance (Jason Sudeikis) in earshot of other guests at his surprise birthday party.

Each character is accompanied by a best buddy--a second-rate lawyer (Rob Corddry) for Jack, a wisecracking cynic (Lake Bell) for Joy--but that doesn't stop them ending a long evening's drunken revelry with a spur-of-the-moment visit to a Vegas wedding chapel. Come the morning after; the regretful marrieds are ready to file for an annulment once they return home. But then Jack plays a slot machine with Joy's quarter, and wins a $3 million jackpot.

Back in the Big Apple, an acerbic judge (Dennis Miller) with conservative ideas about the sanctity of matrimony refuses to resolve the dispute over the $3 million jackpot, and challenges them to make the union work by sentencing them to "six months' hard marriage," with the first one who asks out losing the cash.

So the ultra-organized Joy must move into Jack's sloppy apartment. And the slackerish Jack must pretend to enjoy life with a woman who makes impossible demands, like putting down the toilet seat and not dumping his dirty laundry everywhere.

Naturally, each character tries to undermine the other, in the hope of ending the cohabitation and, more important, seizing the money. Just as naturally, the antagonists gradually warm to each other, pushed steadily closer as Joy charms members of Jack's family, and Jack ingratiates himself to Joy's boss (Dennis Farina).

There are no big surprises, and only a handful of unexpected developments. But Kutcher and Diaz are undeniably appealing as they go through familiar motions in custom-fitted roles, and the scene-stealing supporting players (Corddry, Bell, Farina and Queen Latifah as a marriage counselor) go about their petty larceny with amusing adroitness. Brit-born helmer Tom Vaughan ("Starter for 10") tries too hard at first to emphasize free-wheeling zaniness, but settles into a smoother groove to keep this utterly disposable but lightly entertaining pic afloat.

Tech values are mostly unremarkable. Las Vegas scenes are conspicuously lacking in the snap and pizzazz cuds have come to expect from interludes in the gambling mecca.

WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS

A 20th Century Fox release of a Fox and Regency Enterprises presentation of a 21 Laps/Mosaic Media Group production. Produced by Michael Aguilar, Shawn Levy, Jimmy Miller. Executive producers, Arnon Milchan, Joe Caracciolo Jr., Dean Georgaris.

Directed by Tom Vaughan. Screenplay, Dana Fox. Camera (Technicolor), Matthew F. Leonetti; editor, Matthew Friedman; music, Christophe Beck; music supervisor, Deva Anderson; production designer; Stuart Wurtzel; art director, Steven Graham; set decorator, Susan Bode-Tyson; costume designer, Renee Ehrlich Kalfus; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Chris Newman; assistant director, Glen Trotiner; casting, Avy Kaufman. Reviewed at AMC Studio 30, Houston, May 3, 2008. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 98 MIN.
Joy McNally                          Cameron Diaz
Jack Fuller                        Ashton Kutcher
Steve "Hater" Hader                   Rob Corddry
Tipper                                  Lake Bell
Mason                              Jason Sudeikis
Jack Fuller Sr.                    Treat Williams
Mrs. Fuller                     Deirdre O'Connell
Chong                            Michelle Krusiec
Banger                              Dennis Farina
Dave the Bear                   Zach Galifianakis
Dr. Twitchell                       Queen Latifah
Judge Whopper                       Dennis Miller
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Title Annotation:What Happens in Vegas
Author:Leydon, Joe
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Movie review
Date:May 12, 2008
Words:775
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