Does anyone really love Bette Midler? I mean, other than gay men and my Aunt Elaine? In Helen Hunt's directing debut — an adaptation of Elinor Lipman's very '90s novel — Midler provides all the brassy, motor-mouth mugging you'd expect from an actress who perpetually seems on the verge ofbreaking into song. On the surface, she seems like a terrible choice for an intimate art-house comic drama.
What Happens in Vegas is the cinematic equivalent of a Twinkie: cheap, artificial, bad for you, yet eager to please and weirdly satisfying. This should not be read as an outright endorsement of industrially extruded noxious yellow snack foods, or of lazy, brain-killing formulaic date movies, simply an acknowledgement that both products serve a certain niche, and while undeniably awful, under the right circumstances they can be guiltily enjoyable.
Putting his celebrated theater credentials aside, David Mamet essentially has two Hollywood personas: Mamet the screenwriter and Mamet the filmmaker. And the gulf in quality between the two can be pretty dramatic. Mamet the screenwriter likes to deconstruct well-trodden film genres into his own self-conscious brand of stylized dialogue and narrative sleight-of-hand. No matter what kind of movie he's paying homage to, it's inevitable that an elaborate con and the unwritten code of manly behavior are at the heart of his story. Though the seams always threaten to pop, his tales have an internal and intimate logic that keeps them from falling apart. Movies like Things Change, House Of Games and State And Main have so much pluck, style and ingenuity that you're willing to forgive their convolutions and contrivances.
The eclectic fare, which emphasizes Asia and the Caribbean, is reflected in the appetizers. For example, Thad brilliantly executes a platter of four crispy Chinese pork dumplings atop cilantro, laced with a subtle, tamarind-infused tomato sauce ($9). Although the portion size will disappoint those hoping to share, the tuna tartare, a small mound of yellowfin folded into a dijon-thyme dressing, is a pleasing delicacy ($12). Other appetizers include broiled mussels, crab cake and Gruyére custard.