Reviews

A Glimmer of Salvation Is Found in 'Last Vegas'

This does best during its nicely understated climax, where the glimmers of the characters' fears -- of aging, of becoming irrelevant -- are most visible and closest to poignant, if only briefly.


Last Vegas


Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Mary Steenburgen, Jerry Ferrara, Romany Malco
Rated: PG-13
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-11-01 (General release)
UK date: 2014-01-03 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Given the proliferation of old-guy all-star action movies (The Expendables, Red, and the upcoming Grudge Match), it's surprising that veteran Hollywood has been slow to embrace a less action-intensive variation, the old-guy all-star comedy (see, for one few and far between example, 2000's Space Cowboys). Just so, rather than breaking out the big guns and creaking muscles, Last Vegas unites famous faces of the '80s and '90s to perform a genteel knock-off of The Hangover.

But in its opening moments, Last Vegas reveals that it's operating on clichés far hoarier than could be stolen from a four-year-old movie. It's also drawing on cheesy coming-of-age movies and romantic comedies, among others. We first see the Flatbush Four, as the heroes call themselves, as young teenagers on the streets of Brooklyn, repeating their awkwardly worded mantra: "No one calls us names except for us!" Years (and years) later, Billy (Michael Douglas) calls up his buddies Sam (Kevin Kline) and Archie (Morgan Freeman) to let them know he's finally getting married, to a woman half his age. They insist on heading to Vegas and throwing him a bachelor party to match the parties he organized for them in younger days, though Paddy (Robert De Niro), housebound after the death of his wife, is less enthused about the idea.

Paddy has a long-simmering grudge against Billy for reasons that become clear as the movie proceeds, but apart from that bit of emotional business and the guys' obligatory grumbling about naps and medication, the movie doesn't have many ideas about obstacles that might come up on a debauched reunion weekend. Even fewer of its ideas are actually funny. Mostly, the friends get lucky and buy their way through the town (and they have an unspoken safety net in Billy, a successful and wealthy businessman), and there isn't much comedy in good things happening to blasé if nice-enough people. The Hangover movies, lazy as they are, at least have ideas about the seedy underbelly of Vegas glitz. Last Vegas offers more of an old-school fantasy, where even the most depressing little casino has a pretty, smart lounge singer (Mary Steenburgen) performing to minimal crowds for the sheer fun of it.

Steenburgen is the only woman in the movie whose presence is partially, rather than wholly, symbolic (which, to be fair, puts the movie well ahead of any Hangover installment). She looks like she's having fun with the boys, mostly with Douglas and De Niro, I'd love to see later-years romantic comedy with her and Kline, the most comedically polished of the talented cast. Looking like a distinguished and easily ruffled owl, he doesn't have a chance to show off his renowned physical grace, but his sharp-tongued finessing of groaner lines prompts the question: Would Last Vegas maybe have been funnier with more actual comedians on hand?

Of course, Freeman, Douglas, and De Niro have garnered laughs in a handful of other movies, and Freeman is especially game with his limited material here: he drinks Red Bull, babbles, and wisecracks. But Douglas and De Niro look more comfortable handling their more dramatic moments. De Niro in particular does a lot of his trademark glowering; as it turns out, Paddy's contempt for Billy, despite not being written as comedy, is one of the funniest running bits of the movie (it's delightfully easy to imagine the real-life De Niro hassling the real-life slickster Douglas).

The PG-13 saltiness, on the other hand, is mostly limp and unbecoming. To its credit, Last Vegas is too pleasant and cute to push its stars into the ongoing gross-out sweepstakes, but it's so senior-friendly it sometimes borders on condescension. All of the characters are pushing 70, but are commonplace conveniences like automated car locks and cell phones really vexing for this age group? (Like a lot of Hollywood movies about older folks, the screenplay feels like it was written 10 or 20 years ago, not 2013.)

This means the jokes are at once light and sitcommy, but also too prominent and shticky for Last Vegas to work as a full-on dramedy. The movie does best during its nicely understated climax, where the glimmers of the characters' fears -- of aging, of becoming irrelevant -- are most visible and closest to poignant, if only briefly. Like most of the old-guy all-star pictures, the movie creates hope for a reunion, not a sequel, but a better movie starring the same talented people.

3

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image