Skip to main content

You call this a nice weekend? This is sad.

Last Vegas
(2013)

(SPOILERS) I’m all in favour of more movies featuring performers of pensionable age in leading roles, just as long as they aren’t lousy. Last Vegas is of such adverse quality, it makes Stand Up Guys seem like an unalloyed classic in comparison. It’s fairly self-evident that some not-so bright exec (or budding writer) decided to pitch The Hangover for old guys, right down to the Vegas location. Many will debate the merits of Todd Phillips’ film (I liked it), but this crumbly, soiled, too-damn-spineless-to-risk-offending-its-intended-audience (just a little bit risqué, that will be sufficient) is utterly bereft. And yet its gambit worked; four over-the-hill stars – all Oscar winners to boot (who haven’t worked together before) – up to not such hijinks equals a box office hit.


There’s nothing in the set up that should need explaining, it writes itself, but I’ll go ahead anyway; Billy (Douglas), suddenly conscious of his own mortality, decides to tie the knot with a woman nearly 40 years his junior and invites his childhood friends (although there are 14 years between the youngest and oldest, and Freeman the oldest has weathered better than at least two of his juniors) to Vegas for the wedding. Archie (Freeman; his character had a stroke a while back and his son smothers him) and Sam (Kline; his marriage has lost its sparkle) decide to throw him a bachelor party and manage to drag misery-guts Paddy (De Niro; his wife died recently and he doesn’t forgive Billy for missing the funeral) along too. When they get there lots of really funny stuff with old coots doing youngster stuff ensues, while both Billy and Paddy find their heads turned by an age-appropriate lounge singer (Steenburgen).


We knew De Niro no longer had any shame, and we knew Freeman would lend “instant gravitas” vocals to any old shit, so their presence here isn’t such a surprise (Freeman’s been making movies about being nearly dead for the best part of a decade now, after all). But Douglas is running on fumes here like never before, even given all those so-so thrillers he made in the decade from the mid-‘90s (a poor man’s Harrison Ford, Ford inherited that mantle subsequently). He’s an actor who should never try to coast on charm, because he comes across as inveterately smug if his characters have no edge. On occasion he’s played off that marvellously (The War of the Roses, Romancing the Stone) but he’s stranded here. De Niro is playing an irascible sod, and even gets to stumble through his tired Mob routine, so it’s almost as if he didn’t even have to get out of bed in the morning and show up on set; they came to him.


Only Kline, the youngest of the quartet, escapes with any dignity intact. That’s because he’s actually energetic and a naturally sharp comedian, even when the script is doing its best to sink him. Sam’s quite extraordinarily sloppy set up has wife Miriam (Joanna Gleeson) give him a free pass to get his end away in order to perk up his life and their relationship. To this end she presents him with a condom and some Viagra (it’s just a blessed relief that the mortifying stiffy sequence with Pacino in Stand Up Guys doesn’t recur here). Cluelessly, we’re supposed to congratulate Sam for not going through with the deed with some young totty because he realises how much he loves his wife.


So Kline’s amiable, even if Sam has to learn that trannies are people too. None of these guys have much chemistry, but at least Kline and Freeman have a sufficiently laid back presence to let the embarrassments and rote plotting wash over them. This includes copious bodily function and age jokes, and old people with potty mouths (but not too potty, this is a 12/PG13). De Niro is often quite painful to watch, and you occasionally get the impression that Douglas is not quite sure why he agreed to star. Freeman cannot do drunk acting (they drink lots of red bull and vodka, the crazy hooligans; they’ll be tasting that the entirety of the next day).


There’s a hugely depressing scene where the guys judge a bikini contest at a pool party, set to hugely depressing bangin’ tunes that no self-respecting sexagenarian would suffer gladly. It climaxes in the MC Stefan Gordy waving his crotch in De Niro’s face. Which, frankly, De Niro has coming if he’s so indiscriminate. As his character says at one point, “You call this a nice weekend? This is sad”. You got it, Bobby.


Mercifully, Steenburgen is a consistent sunny bright spot in this sea of frothing decay. Somehow, whenever Diana is on screen, the picture shifts into sincerity and warmth, which quickly disperses in the next scene. Someone should give her a proper autumn romance movie (preferably not opposite yukking Douglas or somnambulant De Niro, though).


The shots are called by Jon Turteltaub with consummate indifference. Somehow he became one of Bruckheimer’s main guys for a while (National Treasures) despite having an abundant lack of flair. The worst charge I can level at him here, aside from maintaining a career path of abject mediocrity, is that he endorsed the horrific soundtrack, with horribly chipper sub-80s jazz noodling from Mark Mothersbaugh and aforementioned foghorn dance anthems.


The saddest aspect of all this is that it wouldn't be that difficult to make an ageing ensemble picture – even with such a derivative premise – halfway decent. Wheel in some desiccated stars who actually spark off each other (De Vito came to mind, if you’ve got Douglas already), a writer who had absolutely no involvement with Fred Claus, and a director who cares just a jot, and they might have had something. And avoid the crap celeb cameo (De Niro’s Righteous Kill chum Fiddy Cent). Instead this is a charmless, bad taste mess. Even the attempts at reflection – when Steenburgen isn’t there – are stiff and contrived. Last Vegas made me feel very old.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If you never do anything, you never become anyone.

An Education (2009)
Carey Mulligan deserves all the attention she received for her central performance, and the depiction of the ‘60s is commendably subdued. I worried there was going to be a full-blown music montage sequence at the climax that undid all the good work, but thankfully it was fairly low key. 

Alfred Molina and Olivia Williams are especially strong in the supporting roles, and it's fortunate for credibility’s sake that that Orlando Bloom had to drop out and Dominic Cooper replaced him.
***1/2

Can you close off your feelings so you don’t get crippled by the moral ambiguity of your violent actions?

Spider-Man Worst to Best

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

What, you're going to walk in there like it's the commie Disneyland or something?

Stranger Things 3 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It’s very clear by this point that Stranger Things isn’t going to serve up any surprises. It’s operating according to a strict formula, one requiring the opening of the portal to the Upside Down every season and an attendant demagorgon derivative threat to leak through, only to be stymied at the last moment by our valorous team. It’s an ‘80s sequel cycle through and through, and if you’re happy with it functioning exclusively on that level, complete with a sometimes overpowering (over)dose of nostalgia references, this latest season will likely strike you as just the ticket.

How can you have time when it clearly has you?

Dark  Season 2
(SPOILERS) I’m not intending to dig into Dark zealously, as its plotting is so labyrinthine, it would take forever and a day, and I’d just end up babbling incoherently (so what’s new). But it’s worth commenting on, as it’s one of the few Netflix shows I’ve seen that feels entirely rigorous and disciplined – avoiding the flab and looseness that too often seems part and parcel of a service expressly avoiding traditional ratings models – as it delivers its self-appointed weighty themes and big ideas. And Dark’s weighty themes and big ideas really are weighty and big, albeit simultaneously often really frustrating. It came as no surprise to learn of the showrunners’ overriding fixation on determinism at work in the multi-generational, multiple time period-spanning events within the German town of Winden, but I was intrigued regarding their structural approach, based on clearly knowing the end game of their characters, rather than needing to reference (as they put it) Post-It…

Doesn't work out, I'll send her home in body bag.

Anna (2019)
(SPOILERS) I’m sure one could construe pertinent parallels between the various allegations and predilections that have surfaced at various points relating to Luc Besson, both over the years and very recently, and the subject matter of his movies, be it by way of a layered confessional or artistic “atonement” in the form of (often ingenue) women rising up against their abusers/employers. In the case of Anna, however, I just think he saw Atomic Blonde and got jealous. I’ll have me some of that, though Luc. Only, while he brought more than sufficient action to the table, he omitted two vital ingredients: strong lead casting and a kick-ass soundtrack.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…