Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bad Boys of 'Last Vegas'

Sometimes old men just want to act like young men. That's the message of Last Vegas, which brings some talented veteran actors into the territory settled by the likes of a young Nicolas Cage, Bradley Cooper and Ashton Kutcher. In the film, four childhood friends meet up in Las Vegas for a bachelor party and a wedding, each going through their own personal crisis. Billy (Michael Douglas) is marrying a woman half his age, but is conflicted over whether he really loves her. Sam (Kevin Kline) is recovering from yet another joint replacement surgery and is unsatisfied with the way his life has become. Art (Morgan Freeman) recently recovered from a stroke but feels coddled at the hands of his worrying son. Paddy (Robert De Niro) still mourns the loss of his wife a year before, and has some unresolved issues with Billy. As they arrive in the city of sin, each is rearing to let loose and have a good time, but they're not prepared for what is thrown their way in Las Vegas, and what it will mean for their friendship as a whole.
The boys are back in town
Naturally, the best part of Last Vegas are the interactions between the main actors themselves. Each performer has their own distinct strength to bring to the table, from Douglas' easygoing charm to Kline's peppy spryness to De Niro's tough guy attitude to Freeman's mellow voice and quick wit. From then opening scene (which features the characters as children), we understand the balance of their friendship, and it helps when the actors are diverse enough to be distinctive but alike enough for the audience to understand why they would be friends (you know, just like real life). That said, I do wish the pairings had been more diverse; De Niro and Douglas are almost always paired with one another, while Kline and Freeman play more of a comedic duo when they're by themselves. De Niro, meanwhile, never pairs with Freeman or Kline with Douglas, meaning their interactions are sadly limited. Still, the script does a good job of giving each lead their own arc, and of integrating Mary Steenburgen into the all-male cast, even if it is just as the love interest torn between two men.
Well, she's got a captive audience.
As director Jon Turteltaub has done in the past, he proves he can create a film that appeals to broad segments of the population. While perhaps not as kid-friendly as The Sorcerer's Apprentice or the National Treasure franchise (mainly because of Las Vegas' well-deserved reputation in general), Last Vegas can easily be enjoyed by any adult watching. In effect, it is the complete opposite of the gonzo, up-the-ante humor method that The Hangover and its sequels employed. The laughs here are certainly innocuous enough, relying mainly on the interplay between the main characters and generic jokes about old age, though the quality of the actors does raise the quality somewhat. There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments but to be honest, most of the film will only get silent chuckles, though the point should be raised that never does the humor fall flat.
...and special celebrity referee Morgan Freeman!
If there's one place Last Vegas fails, it's the dramatic story between Billy and Paddy. Without giving away too much, their off-screen feud is one of the oldest cliches in Hollywood storytelling, not to mention one that they reenact in the present day (past and future reflecting one another is another Hollywood cliche). Despite both Douglas and De Niro performing well enough to carry the tale, they can't get away from the fact that their story is nothing new, even with the unique (though not as much as it used to be) setting and strong acting performances to back it up. It also doesn't help that Kline and Freeman's characters have nothing to add to that mix; as I mentioned before, they're mainly for comedic relief, adding no dramatic tension to the overall plot.
To another year of relevance!
Despite the film's many flaws (Turteltaub will never be confused as a "great" Hollywood director), Last Vegas is still very much a fun time at the movies. It's relatively safe, taking no risks whatsoever with its plot and character development, but the humor stands out, as does the fact that we never get to see veteran performers have so much fun on the big screen. Usually, this kind of movie is a young man's game, and these four actors put Hollywood on notice that old men can -and want to - have fun, too. Now they just need a better vehicle to do it with, as Last Vegas is a decent, but not quite worthy effort to get these four men out of supporting roles and back into the limelight where somebody seems to think they still belong.

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