Last Vegas (2013)
Release Date: November 1st, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jon Turteltaub Actors: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Romany Malco, Joanna Gleason, Bre Blair
on Turteltaub’s “Last Vegas” is a compendium of overused senior-citizen jokes strung together by a plot that’s neither plausible nor compelling. It is, in fact, such a manufactured construct that one wonders if it started out as the spec script for a second-tier sitcom pilot. The characters, developed solely on exaggerated personality quirks that have little to no basis in reality, would certainly feel right at home in a sitcom, for which a viewer could potentially suspend disbelief for the idea of a wife sending her husband off to Las Vegas with an envelope containing a condom, a viagra pill, and a handwritten note saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But this is a studio movie, which means it lasts longer than thirty minutes. In such cases, it’s virtually impossible to believe a woman, who seems level-headed enough, capable of being so cavalier about her marriage.
The film’s contrivances are evident as soon as it begins; a brief prologue sequence reveals a preconceived, sanitized vision of mid-1950s New York City, in which four best friends goad each other with foulmouthed playfulness in a neighborhood pharmacy before the local hoodlum, with slicked-back hair and clad in a black leather jacket, enters and threatens to beat the living crap out of them. Naturally, the toughest of the four friends punches the hoodlum out, stands over the hoodlum as he lies on the floor, and assertively announces that no one calls his friends names except him. The four of them then take a bottle of scotch as a form of collateral against the hoodlum, and immediately run off. The way this scene is structured and characterized, you’d swear the friends would break into a musical number choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
The story then flashes forward nearly sixty years, at which point the four friends are aging men living in different parts of the country. Sam (Kevin Kline) lives with his wife in a Florida retirement community, and as the film will repeatedly show, he has a high sex drive and still has an eye for younger women. He will eventually have a run-in of sorts with a straight drag performer (Roger Bart), a third-rate Madonna impersonator. Archie (Morgan Freeman), a retired Air Force pilot, had a mild stroke not too long ago and is now under the watchful eye of his well-intentioned but overprotective son (Michael Ealy) in a suburban New Jersey home. Paddy (Robert De Niro), the aforementioned tough kid, languishes in a Brooklyn apartment unit surrounded by pictures of his recently deceased wife, whom he loved dearly. Not only is he unable to move on, he’s also unwilling to accept the kindness of his upstairs neighbor, a young woman who regularly brings him her homemade soup.
He also harbors deep bitterness towards the fourth friend, Billy (Michael Douglas), whose profession is never revealed but apparently finances a luxurious lifestyle in Los Angeles and necessitates the constant use of his cell phone. Billy, the central character, kick starts the plot by proposing to his thirty-two-year-old girlfriend at, of all places, a funeral while, of all times, delivering the eulogy. He will be having his bachelor party in Las Vegas, and of course, he wants his friends to join him. Sam is able to go, but not before his wife gives him the already-mentioned envelope, essentially giving him permission to have an affair. Archie must resort to sneaking out of the house and leaving behind a note saying he’ll be away at a church function. It will take much more convincing, along with just a bit of lying, to get Paddy to agree to come along. Billy refused to attend the funeral of Paddy’s wife, and this is something Paddy cannot forgive him for.
There will, of course, be plenty of jokes revolving around Billy’s fiancée being a much younger woman. There will also be a lot of gags about medications, physical ailments, and the fact that old men are constantly surrounded by young people in places like nightclubs. Each character is intentionally developed to at some point have a dimestore epiphany about who they are and what they want out of life. This is especially true of Billy, who will inevitably begin to question whether or not he’s truly in love with the woman he’s set to marry. Much of this is brought on by the convenient inclusion of Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a charmingly witty lounge singer at an out-of-the-way casino. The more she and Billy get to know one another, the more obvious it becomes that she’s merely a means to an end; not only is she there for Billy to have someone to truly fall in love with, she’s also the catalyst for a plot twist involving Billy and Paddy, one so cloying it seemed to have been taken from the pages of a romantic melodrama.
The filmmakers have a surprisingly vulgar attitude towards women in general. Most of those that appear in this film are young, in great shape, and are either scantily clad, as when the four men become judges at a hotel bikini contest, or drunk and boldly flirtatious. It quickly reaches the point that any potentially meaningful message about the reality of aging is altogether lost; instead, it plays more like a half-baked version of an old man’s fantasy. I personally believe the wrong creative team brought “Last Vegas” to life. It needed to be in the hands of people who have thoughtful, more personal things to say about life, love, and growing older. It needed to show a more sophisticated – a more mature, if you will – sense of humor. There’s no reason the material had to be reduced to the level of sitcom clichés. That might work for thirty minutes on network television, but for a ninety-minute movie, it’s just plain tedious.
– Chris Pandolfi