By Troy Patterson
May 20, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

The half-farcical litany of very bad things in ”Very Bad Things” starts off with particularly Vegas bad things. Peter Berg’s new-to-tape feature directorial debut finds five California suburbanites availing themselves of all the sins Sin City has to offer. The occasion is a bachelor party on the eve of the marriage of a neurotic Jon Favreau to a pathologically fussy Cameron Diaz. The boys drink, take drugs, gamble, and receive a hotel room visit from a lap-dancing hooker. In other words, they cast off workaday repression for the decadent dream of the Vegas oasis.

Trouble is, we’ve seen it all before, the Nevada mecca as Hyde to America’s Jekyll, as the country’s exaggerated shadowland. ”Very Bad Things” is among the complacent multitude of movies, novels, and stand-up routines that irritatingly reiterate Las Vegas’ dead-end outrageousness while telling tales that could easily be set anywhere else.

”Very Bad Things” aspires to subversion when overenthusiastic party guest Jeremy Piven accidentally pierces the poor working girl’s skull with a towel hook. Homicidal high jinks ensue, flatly. But the flick is no more or less subversive than the obscene requests of ”Indecent Proposal,” the wink-wink send-ups of ”Mars Attacks!,” the junior Rat Pack joyrides of Doug Liman’s ”Swingers” and ”Go.” Even ”Showgirls,” a movie destined to be remembered as one of the worst of the decade, grinds home the idea that L.V. and L.A. — and, by extension, the USA — are corrupt frontiers.

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