Last Vegas: Vanilla Vegas
I’m a sucker for Vegas movies. I’ll watch anything that shows the city in all its splendor even real clunkers like “Burt Wonderstone” and “What Happens in Vegas.” I’ve been looking forward to Last Vegas ever since last October when I was in Vegas for a conference and I saw them filming. I’m pretty sure I saw Deniro as he was on set, walking in front of the Mirage, and I was standing in front of Casino Royale. Pretty sure. My excitement was reignited a few weeks ago when I was in town for the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic or #vimfp and the Last Vegas cast was there as well for their premier.
So, as I was traveling to San Antonio for a conference, I hoped for a free night to catch the movie. The first night in Texas, as I was taking in the Riverwalk, I had that empty feeling that I often associate when I’m away from home (CT) but not in my 2nd home (LV) and I passed a mall with a movie theatre. With a couple of clicks on my iPhone, I found that I had 10 minutes to catch the last showing of Last Vegas so I raced up a couple of working escalators (strange to find a city with so many working walkways) purchased tickets and took my seat. I have to include information about this AMC theatre. The seats in this AMC Theatre are all reserved so I chose my perfect location and, get this, they are full leather recliners. Like, what?! Perfect.
The plot is simple; Paddy, Billy, Archie and Sam (Deniro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline respectively) have been friends for over 60 years and call themselves the Flatbush Four. They’ve lived full lives. Paddy’s wife, who was from the old neighborhood, passed away a year ago. Archie recently had a stroke. Sam lives with his wife in a Florida retirement community and bachelor Billy is finally settling down with a woman less than half his age. Billy wants his old friends to celebrate his Vegas wedding by joining him for the weekend and of course they decide to throw him a big bachelor party the night before the wedding. Billy and Paddy have unresolved issues, Archie is dealing with his overprotective son while Sam is in the midst of a very late mid-life crisis. Add Mary Steenburgen who plays Diana, an attorney turned lounge singer, and you have your main players. The plot line and story are a bit thin but this isn’t about a solid story with a substantial plot and satisfying resolution. This is about four old guys experiencing Vegas. Movies that choose to set their stories with Vegas as their backdrop need to learn how to use the city to complement their film and help propel it. Part of the charm of The Hangover, Oceans 11 and even Vegas Vacation is that Vegas becomes another character of the film. We wait to see how that pesky antagonist, Vegas, will impact those romping around in her playground and often, we look forward to the magic Vegas moment where the city forgives and sometimes rewards her pawns. The majority of the movie is set in the Aria which is one of my favorite places to stay. I wonder how much MGM/Mirage paid because the Aria is shown beautifully in every way from success in the casino to a grand night at Haze and a suite with revolving beds and a personal concierge. The cast of Zarkana makes several appearances including even participating in Billy’s bachelor party. The rest of the city takes a back seat to the Aria with the exception of Binions which is where Diana performs. In fact, little things about the movie’s use of Vegas drove me crazy like the characters walking the wrong way to the Aria and, later, being dropped off at baggage claim instead of the departure terminals when they were leaving from their adventure. The movie captures the spirit of the city but doesn’t fully use the nuances that could have added so much humor and conflict like old guys on a budget paying for steaks, watching a Cirque show with absolute confusion, being accosted by the street walkers, hustling a few young bucks at a poker table or maybe getting arrested for starting a brawl. Perhaps it was the PG-13 rating, but I felt that they didn’t push these old men who were, mostly, looking for a little “life” in their lives and turned to Vegas for that lift. But, it was more vanilla than an episode of the Golden Girls. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have some laughs and isn’t fun. After all, the cast is just too good to let the movie fall completely flat. Overall, what saves this is five great actors letting their characters’ friendships grow, develop and reconnect. I haven’t spent much time in Vegas with my closest friends but I look forward to early bird dinners with my wife, being the old couple at the pool and sharing our love of Vegas with friends, nieces, nephews and godchildren as they get to experience Vegas for the first time. Hopefully, our adventures won’t be quite as bland as the Flatbush Four.
As for Last Vegas, if you love Vegas, don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the way the movie features the city but you’ll appreciate the way the characters celebrate the spirit of Vegas. As a movie, it was a low B-. Wait for DVD unless you absolutely love the actors or are obsessed with Vegas.