War of the roses or just true love?

Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher play unhappy newlyweds in What Happens In Vegas

A mean-spirited streak is creeping into studio-manufactured romantic comedies these days – you know, where someone wants to sabotage his best friend's wedding. This escalates in Fox's What Happens in Vegas, a film that views marriage as a combat sport.

Forced into a temporary marriage of inconvenience, characters played by Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher come out fighting.

They play every dirty trick on each other until, yes, of course, they fall in love. But the film is only interested in the dirty tricks; the love stuff is shrugged off with a sneer.

The comedy will play to undemanding juvenile audiences who only want to see two of Hollywood's bright young things diss each other for 90 minutes. So Fox probably has a modest hit on its hands. And if you are scoring this one, award Diaz a TKO – or technical knockout. She has had more experience making fluff stand up, even if it is slightly rancid.

The set-up is crudely designed in Dana Fox's screenplay. Two "losers" from New York – an insecure commodities trader who got dumped by her boyfriend and a slacker who got fired by his dad – wind up drunk in Las Vegas with their best pals, played by Lake Bell and Rob Corddry. The couple wakes up with a hangover – and a marriage certificate. Each agrees it is a mistake. Then a coin gets tossed into a slot machine and the "couple" wins $3 million (Dh11m).

A curmudgeonly judge (the perpetually cranky Dennis Miller) refuses to release the money to either member of the pleasure-first generation he despises. Instead he sentences them to "six months hard marriage" before they can get an annulment and the money.

Most of us would spend six months with a skunk for $1.5m, but this sentence unleashes a series of wildly unsuccessful attempts by the unhappy pair, to get the other to give up so as to win all the cash. Each attempt is all-too predictable and none is designed to make a viewer care about either one.

British director Tom Vaughan (Starter for 10) hits each scene too hard, apparently in fear that subtlety counts for nothing. He might not be wrong. Only Diaz shows spark because the actress knows how to simultaneously play nice and be a nasty character, thereby gaining audience sympathy.


The numbers

$20.1m: Initial weekend revenues at the US box-office for What Happens In Vegas, as calculated by the site boxofficemojo.com. The film was released on May 9.

$6,324: Average takings of the film per theatre in its opening weekend. It was released to 3,215 screens.

$35m: The reported production budget of the film.