Film studios hope to release as many films as possible to cover as wide a breadth of demographics as they can, and have developed sophisticated tools to make and market the films as appropriate. The biggest moneymaker is the tentpole action film, which asks to bring in the high school and college crowd, usually men, but more recently studios have worked to call in the fairer sex. A smaller but still highly profitable niche market is what I call the “old fart fish out of water” comedy, enlisting relic A-listers to look confused, laugh about the good ‘ol days, and learn a warm lesson about old age before hitting the grave. You could question the profitability, especially since they’re usually universally panned by critics, until you take a gander at the receipts of these films, like 2007‘s Wild Hogs that made a whopping $253,625,427 at the global box office. So, it’s easy to understand using Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Robert DeNiro front and center in this year’s blockbuster of its genre, Last Vegas. It was a smart move, not because the film’s any good (it isn’t), but because the natural charisma of these film legends, along with the lesser known actor Kevin Kline, might just make Last Vegas worth watching.
The spunk and enthusiasm coursing through National Treasure, the most famous film by director Jon Turteltaub, is totally absent here, and instead feels like a leaderless whipping on the patience of audiences. It’s a rare film that tempts me to check my smartphone for the time, much less one where I’m itching to after the first twenty minutes. It’s the sort of studio slosh given to filmmakers as a punishment, and since Tureltuab crashed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice into the red and unable to recoup its budget, I suspect that was the case here. With that in mind, the palpable disinterest on the part of the filmmakers makes sense, robbing the film of the energy it ought to have. Unfortunately, since the film’s primary setting is a city internationally known for its shimmering buzz, this problem escalates. Furthermore, the screenplay is overflowing with cliches to such a heavy extent the cast barely treads water strong enough to inject personality into an otherwise directionless script and film. Tureltuab seems all too aware of these shortcomings and tries masking them with a zillion sloppy “haha” montages. It doesn’t work.
Though, if there’s one thing deserving of praise within the pages of an otherwise insipid script, it’s that there are genuine surprises with the directions it takes as the film continues. Sure, most are predictable, and the surprises still aren’t revelatory, but at least screenwriter Dan Fogelman bothered to include more than one. The cast is largely great, and add enough moxie and charm to forgive some of the unsavory elements of the film. Each of the three big stars take a fun jab at their current on-screen personas, although Freeman’s coasting every bit as much as in Oblivion earlier this year. Douglas and DeNiro are the heart of the film, adding layers to characters that dare to stir some emotion in late-act dramatics. It’s no surprise they share tangible chemistry together, but Mary Steenburgen is an eye-opener from the moment she graces the screen, and still Hollywood beautiful at 63 years old.
If only the rest of the film were as lovely.