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Friday, December 20, 2013

Last Vegas

The Hangover for geriatrics? Not so fast...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Four old, lifelong friends head off to Vegas to throw a bachelor party for their perennially single member who has finally decided to settle down with a woman half his age - with blowout parties, late-mid-life crises and friendship-straining conflicts following along in their wake.

What we thought

Last Vegas may seem on the surface to be another retread of The Hangover, only this time with an older cast and more Viagra jokes but, pleasingly, it's something quite different. Las Vegas is featured, of course, and so are a quartet of old friends and, yup, Viagra jokes but rather than trying to copy the success of a series that was well past its sell-by date the minute its first film ended, Last Vegas is an intimate and character-driven slice of gentle comedy about love, friendship and growing older.

It's also, however, not something that is going to go down as any sort of serious masterpiece as it is more pleasantly entertaining than anything even remotely truly special and even if it isn't afraid to tackle some big themes, it does so with both a fair amount of predictability and enough caution to make sure that it never diverts attention from the geniality of its comedy. It's a film, in other words that is no where near as crass or as dumb as you may fear but, for what is effectively a movie about existential angst, it's surprisingly resolute in its mission of never being more than pleasantly but forgettably enjoyable.

Still, though there is little remarkable about the film, it deserves full credit for basically doing exactly what it set out to do and though it may be a slight pity that it does little to stand out from the crowd in a good way, at least enough effort was put into the film to ensure that nothing stands out in a bad way either. Apparently, sometimes keeping your sights low and your ambitions humble can actually pay off.

It would be easy, of course, to lay most of the success of the film on the feet of its top-notch veteran cast but that would be unfair to both screenwriter Dan Fogelman and director Jon Turtletaub. These sort of star-studded affairs can often go horribly, horribly wrong when much of the heavy lifting is done by the reputation of its stars (Oceans 12 anyone?) so credit where credit's due: Turtletaub did a great job of playing to his actor's strengths without over-relying on their public personas.

I also assume that I wouldn't be talking out of turn when I say that the film simply must have been written with these actors in mind. I would be very surprised if it wasn't, as each of these roles seem tailor made for each specific actor. Michael Douglas's character is charming but smarmy (albeit good hearted), while Robert Deniro's is tough and curmudgeonly (albeit good hearted) and Morgan Freeman's is wise and breezily loveable (albeit bad-hearted – but only in the most literal of senses). Best of all though is Kevin Kline, who pretty much steals the show as the funniest (albeit, yup you guessed it, still good hearted) of the lot, whose brilliantly strange mix of goofiness and sharp intelligence has not graced our screens anywhere near often enough in recent years.

Along with the boys though, we certainly shouldn't forget the lovely Mary Steenbergen who easily holds her own against our four sexagenarian heroes – literally, in the case of at least one of them. She provides a much needed female counter-point and further differentiates the film from the overly male-centric Hangover films. I'm still not sure if Last Vegas would pass the Bechdel test, but at least its one major female character has enough of her own personality to be more than just be the required potential love interest (though she is that as well).

In the end, I suppose it's hardly surprising that Last Vegas is ultimately pretty mediocre when you consider the middle of the road careers of both its writer and its director (though Turtletaub just earned another fifty cool points from me as I just now noticed that along with stuff like National Treasure and 3 Ninja Kids, he's the guy who directed the timelessly awesome Cool Runnings!), but they do at least remind us that “mediocre” can just as easily mean “entertaining” and “perfectly OK” as it can “boring” and “basically a bit crap”.

It's not necessarily something that you need to rush out and see, but if you're in the mood for a perfectly pleasant and entertaining couple of hours at the movies, you could really do a whole lot worse than Last Vegas.


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