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

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…

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

They make themselves now.

Screamers (1995)
(SPOILERS) Adapting Philip K Dick isn’t as easy as it may seem, but that doesn't stop eager screenwriters from attempting to hit that elusive jackpot. The recent Electric Dreams managed to exorcise most of the existential gymnastics and doubts that shine through in the best versions of his work, leaving material that felt sadly facile. Dan O'Bannon had adapted Second Variety more than a decade before it appeared as Screamers, a period during which he and Ronald Shusett also turned We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into Total Recall. So the problem with Screamers isn't really the (rewritten) screenplay, which is more faithful than most to its source material (setting aside). The problem with Screamers is largely that it's cheap as chips.

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …