It's time to give a fair shake to Ashton Kutcher, as if enough cool things haven't happened in his life. From his irrationally perfect genes to marrying Demi Moore, Kutcher's fortune almost demands to be despised.
The haters should lay off. Anyone paying attention after That '70s Show and Dude, Where's My Car? notices how Kutcher cannily parlayed fame as a producer: deflating celebrities on MTV's Punk'd, punking paparazzi with Pop Fiction and turning the potentially degrading Beauty and the Geek into a sweetly empowering reality show.
Kutcher jumps into acting now and then, usually over his head in dramatic roles that his pretty-boy image won't allow viewers to accept. Which brings us to What Happens in Vegas, and the role making Kutcher into a bona fide romantic comedy star.
He plays Jack Fuller, a man-child whose own father (Treat Williams) fires him from a job for goofing off. Jack isn't marriage material and he's proud of it, preferring the company of his bad-influence buddy (Rob Corddry). They impulsively decide to blow off steam in Las Vegas, where the opposite whom Jack will attract is also heading.
Nothing is impulsive about Joy McNally (Cameron Diaz), an uptight person who "makes plans to make plans" when she isn't stressing out as a Wall Street floor trader. Joy's Type A+ personality turns off her fiance (Jason Sudekeis), who dumps her while their closest friends listen, ready to spring a surprise birthday party. Joy also has a bad influence, a tart-tongued bartender (Lake Bell) who proposes their Vegas fling.
Director Tom Vaughan buoyantly bounces between Jack and Joy's set-ups, their meet-cute in Sin City and a dazzling montage of their drunken one-night stand. Then the hook: Sometime during the evening Jack and Joy get married. Before an annulment can be filed, a slot machine dishes out a $3-million jackpot they must remain married six months to claim.
Jack and Joy can't stand each other so naturally they're perfect together, according to romantic comedy protocol. What Happens in Vegas occupies a familiar battleground of the sexes, stretches the inevitable too far and commits too many other nonsurprises to be anything close to creative entertainment.
But this cast trusts Dana Fox's screenplay. It isn't overly clever but respects the sidekick rhythm of the genre. Verbal thrusts and parries sound natural since each supporting actor — especially Corddry's glazed chauvinist pig — respects the jokes.
They don't need to push it with such a star coupling at center stage. Diaz is a pro at such fluff now. Kutcher can be, just like another survivor of a dumb TV show who made a splash in movies, married solid and kept a level head while maturing with lively class.
Sorry, haters. Ashton Kutcher may be the 21st century Tom Hanks.
Read Steve Persall's blog at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.