Judge Gordon Sullivan plans to take his final fling at the carnival ring toss.
It's going to be legendary.
Things were getting ridiculous, so it had to happen eventually. I remember it struck me most forcefully in 2008's Righteous Kill. Though I loved the idea of pairing Al Pacino and Robert De Niro again, it was a little hard to swallow them as a pair of detectives in their mid-to-late-sixties. It's especially hard since both guys have been playing men in a vaguely defined middle age for the last thirty or so years. Something had to give. Maybe Pacino started the trend with Stand Up Guys, but De Niro follows suit with Last Vegas, a film that finally acknowledges that a whole generation of actors is getting a bit too old to be playing middle-aged men anymore. Rather than focusing on the negative side, though, Last Vegas throws a handful of excellent older actors into a script filled with zingers. Though you'll see many of the jokes coming, the performers elevate this one above the mediocre concept.
Facts of the Case
Archie (Morgan Freeman, Se7en), Sam (Kevin Kline, A Fish Called Wanda), Paddy (Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook), and Billy (Michael Douglas, Basic Instinct) are the Flatbush Four, friends since growing up together many, many years ago. However, time has taken its toll, and they're all in their late sixties, when bachelor Billy decides to get married to a woman half his age. His friends use this as an excuse to get the gang back together for a final fling in Vegas. Both the Strip and these four friends have changed in the past few decades, and this weekend will help them learn just how much.
Last Vegas resembles another of 2013's features: The World's End, the film that reunited Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. Both films feature a quartet of men who grew up together coming back to have a final party. Both also feature a significant tension between two of the members (in the cast of Last Vegas between De Niro's Paddy and Michael Douglas' Billy), and that tension helps give both pictures the emotional weight they're reaching for. However, whereas The World's End embraces the darkness its title suggests, Last Vegas is an excuse to let us watch these old guys frolic through Vegas, getting fitted for fancy suits, poring drinks into the mouths of nubile young women, and visiting the occasional club.
The other big difference is that while The World's End can rely on the visual wit and verbal intelligence of its screenwriters (Wright and Pegg), Last Vegas has four titans of acting to bring its story to life. You could put these four guys into a room and give them the proverbial cereal box to read and it would still be interesting. It's a treat to see them together, often all four in the frame, trading barbs, jokes, and impeccable comic timing. Perhaps most impressively, they never let the fact of their own stardom carry the picture. Instead, all four actors give their best, pushing the so-so script with crack timing and little gestures that elevate it. Though I doubt that Last Vegas will spawn a franchise like The Hangover, it proves amply that these four guys should work together again, the sooner the better. Mary Steenburgen deserves a special shout-out as the "fifth wheel" of the group; she's smart, sexy, and strong as Diana here, and it's an impressive performance.
Last Vegas (Blu-ray) is also pretty solid. The 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded image is near-perfect. Detail is strong throughout, from close-ups on the actors' faces to the wide shots of some of the Strip's more famous landmarks. Colors are spot-on as well, with the clear skies of Vegas standing out. Even skin tones are great, from Douglas' intentionally off-color face, to De Niro's paler visage. Darker scenes benefit from excellent black levels that stay consistent and deep, especially during interiors. If the DTS-HD 5.1 track isn't quite as impressive as the transfer, that's only because it doesn't have quite as much to work within the dialogue-driven comedy. The actors are always easy to make out, and there's some pleasing ambience available in the surrounds, especially in Vegas' many crowded settings. Music comes through with impressive clarity and range.
Extras are a bit fluffy, but nice. The major contribution is a commentary by director Jon Turtletaub and writer Dan Fogelman. The pair are chatty throughout, giving a lot of info on the background of the film and how it was shot. Then we get seven featurettes (about 20 minutes of material) that cover everything from the making of the film, to the cast, to shooting in Vegas. They're each pretty short, but they do have insights from the cast and crew. A DVD and Ultraviolet Digital Copy are also available with this release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Given the names involved, Last Vegas could be a swing for the fences, a classic tale of growing older. Instead, everyone is content to go on autopilot. Many, many of the jokes are pretty obvious takes on the growing-older formula: smart phones are complicated, car door locks even more so, and sex becomes more problematic as one grows older. We've heard all the jokes before, even if having someone as wickedly smart as Kevin Kline deliver them does freshen their patina a bit. Vegas, too, has been more Disney than mafia for a couple of decades now, so even the jokes centered around its transformation feel a bit tired. This doesn't diminish the power of the stars' performances, but it does make me wish they'd reached a little further, especially in the wake of films like The Hangover, which manage to make Vegas at least a little edgy in the twenty-first century.
Last Vegas won't win any awards for originality, but it's four leads are almost always worth watching, and this film is no exception. Though it's a bit fluffy, the leads keep the film grounded and give it a surprisingly emotional center about the difficulties of aging. I wish the film had a bit more going on in the script, but anyone who likes the leads should check it out.
Could be better, but not guilty.
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