Five years ago Ashton Kutcher starred in a dire romantic comedy called Just Married, one of those movies that tries to present marriage as horrible but instead winds up portraying its married characters as such horrible people that they drive us out of the theater.

Five years later, his new film, What Happens in Vegas …, does exactly the same thing, which is one of many reasons the formula is so much more depressing than it was the first time around. Kutcher plays a recently unemployed, arrested-development case named Jack, while Cameron Diaz plays an overworked stockbroker named Joy. They’re both New Yorkers who take a Vegas vacation at the same time, and they meet each other when a mix-up at their hotel books them into the same room. When Joy first sees Jack, she hurls a lamp at his head, which sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

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Fledgling British director Tom Vaughan (Starter for 10) makes his lone positive contribution in the form of a montage of Jack and Joy’s subsequent night of heavy partying, which ends with them getting married. The next morning, they make plans for an annulment, which promptly explode when Jack hits a $3 million jackpot in the hotel casino, and Joy lays claim to half the money as his wife. Back in New York, a judge (Dennis Miller) finds them both so annoying that he forces them to stay together and try to work things out, declaring, “I am sentencing you to six months of hard marriage!” Yes, he actually says that, and what’s more, that awful line is totally representative of the DELETE’s attempts at humor.

From this contrived set-up comes half a movie’s worth of Jack and Joy doing their best to make married life unendurable for each other, though they mostly succeed in making the movie unendurable for us. Their best friends (Rob Corddry for him, Lake Bell for her) abet their bad behavior – most of which emanates from Jack, to be fair – and their antics are stupid, childish, and worst of all, not funny. We don’t even get the satisfaction of seeing them really busted for it by responsible third parties like the judge or the court-appointed therapist he forces them to see (Queen Latifah).

This is a mean-spirited piece of work, and you know what? It needed to be meaner. Maybe that wouldn’t have made the movie any better, but at least it would have been consistent. Instead, we have an irredeemably phony twist halfway through, when the filmmakers suddenly seem to remember that these characters are supposed to be appealing. (The lead actors, on the other hand, never seem to remember that at all and turn in rote performances that highlight all of their least attractive qualities.) Jack and Joy are made to fall in love for real, and no one involved in the filmmaking can handle the shift in tone. I’ll tell you What Happens in Vegas …: This movie loses big, and so will anybody who pays to see it.

What Happens in Vegas …
Starring Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. Directed by Tom Vaughan. Written by Dana Fox. Rated PG-13.