Monday, November 11, 2013

Last Vegas – This Ain’t Kid Stuff

     Unlike actors, who contrary to popular belief are just flesh and blood, there are a few film subjects that never get old. Love, friendship and the unstoppable onset of age are a handful of such timeless themes and all three are presented with warmth, humor and respect in Last Vegas.
     This low-key yet flashy film presents four of the finest actors of the past thirty years: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, as four childhood pals from Brooklyn who gather in Las Vegas to celebrate the marriage of the last bachelor among them. Michael Douglas plays Billy, an aging west coast big shot who finally breaks down and proposes to his much younger girlfriend during his eulogy for a deceased business mentor. Robert De Niro plays Paddy, Billy’s best friend who is still holding a grudge over the LA impresario’s failure to appear, or even call, when his wife died a year earlier. There are deep, long standing animosities between Billy and Paddy, and these threaten not only the Vegas weekend but their 60 year friendship. Morgan Freeman appears as Archie, a man struggling to regain his freedom after suffering a mild stroke that has sent his son Ezra (Michael Ealy) into full blown panic protection/control mode. Rounding out this venerable quartette is Kevin Kline as Sam, a man with his wife Miriam’s (Joanna Gleason) permission to fool around in Vegas so long as she doesn’t hear about it – what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
While Archie and Sam at times seem little more than comic relief to the heavier drama between Billy and Paddy, their stories do get enough attention to afford them satisfying resolutions. All told, the stories and characters complement each other well in this light-hearted film about grown-up quandaries.
Also featuring in this old-timer’s weekend in Vegas film is Mary Steenburgen as Diana, a lounge singer who attracts the romantic attentions of both Billy and Paddy. Diana’s presence not only complicates the old buddies’ already tense times, but also plays an important role that drama’s ultimate outcome. Ms. Steenburgen herself proves by playing Diana that a woman 60 years young can still be charming and sexy.
There’s a lot of fun to be had watching Last Vegas – even the two tween-agers sitting behind me occasionally laughed out loud. (I’m pretty sure they walked into the wrong theater, Ender’s Game was playing in the theater next door.) When the climactic party scene gets too wild in the guy’s penthouse suite none other than rap star Curtis Jackson III, a.k.a. Fifty-Cent, makes a cameo as himself, first complaining about the noise, then asking if he can come in… “Fiddy” is refused entry by the party’s gate-keeper. While nowhere near the same class as On Golden Pond or even The Sunshine Boys, this picture, written by Dan Fogelman (Cars, Stupid Crazy Love) and directed by Jon Turteltaub (The Kid, National Treasure), knows better than to even attempt such lofty melodramatic heights and stand on its own merits. Those merits are multiple, a good time at the movies with some great actors playing people to whom grown-ups can relate and its all set in the town that has become – for good or bad – a giant theme park for grown-ups.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect to this film is its genuineness in dealing with the issues of aging and loneliness. Even though these issues are dealt with in comic fashion no punches are pulled. A stroke would be a serious mortality wake-up call to most people, as would the loss of the woman you’ve loved since you were children in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. Last Vegas confronts and comforts those cruel realities as well as any film, and does so while keeping the schmaltz meter set squarely at zero.

Watching Last Vegas made me realize that I’d rather spend 90 minutes watching Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas barely talk to each other than watch 100 minutes of $150Million in CGI special effects. Those tweeners behind me may someday realize themselves they feel the same way. I hope so at least, and that’s coming from a guy who was the kid who saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom five times in the summer of ’84. Last Vegas is definitely a must see, I’m still smiling thinking of it, although admittedly it’s a wistful smile.