Chuck Koplinski: Golden cast isn't only thing old about 'Last Vegas'
Don't you just laugh and laugh when you see a senior citizen unable to operate a new-fangled gadget like a trunk latch in a car?
Or how about when they act hip but are really out of touch with the times, like say when someone might mistake Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson as a member of The Jackson 5? And don't get me started where jokes about erectile dysfunction are concerned! Why, they're used so sparingly, whenever I hear one, I'm brought to my knees, chuckling uncontrollably.
If humor of this sort is your idea of a good time at the movies, then Jon Turteltaub's "Last Vegas" is the movie you've been waiting for. Containing jokes and gags nearly as old and creaky as its 60- and 70-something leads, the film is a predictable, desperate slog that's rarely amusing and often painful to watch.
Of course, with a cast that includes former Oscar-winners Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen, it's difficult not to have heightened expectations, even when we're dealing with an obvious fluff piece such as this. Yet "Vegas" fails to offer anything insightful or fresh on the subject of aging gracefully, and the result is akin to watching five brilliant architects tinker about with a bucket of Lincoln Logs.
After an awkward prologue in which we meet the four male characters in their youth, we get to the heart of the matter, which is a reunion of childhood friends because of a joyous occasion. Billy (Douglas), the one member of the quartet to make it big, is going to, at the age of 70, finally get married — to a woman almost half his age.
This is welcome news to his pals Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kline), as they are looking for anything to break up their slow, boring march toward death. The only fly in the ointment is that these two must convince the fourth member of the group to accompany them to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, and it won't be an easy task. Mourning the loss of his wife, Paddy (De Niro) has become the poster child for Curmudgeon's International and holds a grudge against Billy for a past wrong. However, Archie and Sam are nothing if not wily, and soon the trio is headed to Sin City to hook up with their pal for the mother of all bachelor parties. All seems well, until the quartet meets Diana (Steenburgen), a lounge singer that soon has Paddy thinking about giving love one more chance and Billy wondering if he's marrying the right woman.
The screenplay by Dan Fogelman is an example of economic writing done wrong. Seemingly serious grievances between the characters are resolved at the snap of the fingers, which I guess makes sense as any of these guys could keel over at a moment's notice, while the plot points require little exposition as we've seen them on numerous occasions.
Archie has been marginalized by his son because he's had a stroke; Sam's marriage has lost its spark, so he's looking to sow his old oats; Paddy refuses to give up the memory of his beloved wife and suffers from survivor's guilt. It's all old hat, and try as they might, the cast simply can't breath any life into this flat, dull material.
Film buffs will delight in seeing the four veterans on screen together yet rue the fact that it couldn't be in a better project. Douglas, Freeman and Kline bring their A game with De Niro looking uncomfortable throughout, especially when these four are judging a bikini contest, and he ends up getting a lap dance from a guy who shakes his junk in his face. Workaholic that he is, the actor has yet to learn that instead of taking any old script that comes his way, he might be better off sitting at home, a move that would benefit not only his legacy, but his unsuspecting fans and conscientious film critics everywhere.
'Last Vegas' (2 stars out of 4)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Romany Malco, Jerry Ferrara, Michael Ealy, Joanna Gleason and Bre Blair.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub; produced by Amy Baer, Joseph Drake and Laurence Mark; screenplay by Dan Fogelman.
A CBS Films release. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sexual content and language). At AMC Village Mall 6 and Savoy 16.
Also new in theaters
"Wadjda" delightful story of youthful independence. (3-1/2 stars)
There's little doubt that Wadjda is an independent young lady — you can tell from the purple shoelaces she wears in her black high-tops. She's outspoken, a bit sassy, a freethinker, isn't afraid to stick up for herself and would be right at home in any community in the United States. Unfortunately, she lives outside of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, a modern city that adheres to an archaic way of living where women are considered second-class citizens with very few rights.
Haifaa Al-Mansour's "Wadjda" tells a simple story in a straightforward manner that does not detract from its power. Rather, its clean narrative lines helps to maintain its focus on a message that's long overdue.
In her big-screen debut, Waad Mohammed wins us over instantly in the title role. She conveys a sense of sass and strength that brings Wadjda to life and puts us firmly in her corner as she sets out to buck the system she's trapped in by pursuing a seemingly modest goal.
Jealous of her friend Abdullah's (Abdullrahman Al Gohani) bike, she sets out to save up enough money to buy her own. Selling the friendship bracelets she has made is getting her nowhere fast. However, a contest at her school in which contestants are quizzed on their knowledge of the Quran has a first prize that will get her what she needs. Unfortunately, this is not the only thing on Wadjda's mind as her father is looking for another wife — one can that give him a son — a situation that has her mother (Reem Abdullah) feeling desperate and on edge.
Al-Mansour, who also wrote the film, lays out the restrictions women in this region must contend with in a way that's both plain and subtle. We're quite aware of the restrictive wardrobe they're required to wear and are informed early on that not only are they required to serve their husbands in every way — even when they are in danger of being replaced — but that the sound of their voice is not to be heard outside the home and that the riding of bicycles is forbidden as it is thought they will not be able to have children if they do.
For an unseasoned performer, Mohammed is quite good at conveying a great deal without speaking. She questions the rules that restrict Wadjda with her eyes or expressions and has a way of delivering a cutting remark in a way that never requires that she raise her voice. The film rests on her shoulders, and she gives us a heroine whose strength of character allows her spirit to soar, though the world she lives in is made to crush it.
There's no Hollywood ending in store for Wadjda, but it doesn't matter as we come to learn that her strength will hold her in good stead and that she will grow up to be a strong woman able to stare down anything or anyone who would try to oppress her.
Excellent pedigree fails to produce compelling "Counselor." (2 stars)
Hollywood history is littered with sure-thing properties that fail to live up to expectations. You can throw Ridley Scott's "The Counselor" onto that ever-growing heap as the film, despite its talented cast and award-winning writer and director, falls flat at ever turn.
With a script by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy, direction from Ridley Scott ("Alien," "Gladiator"), a cast that includes Oscar winners Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz as well as Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz, this project must have looked good on paper. However, something went wrong during the transition from script to screen with the result being a film that is, at times, as dumb as a post.
Fassbender takes on the title role, a hotshot lawyer who is in a bit of a financial bind and wants to afford his fiancee (Penelope Cruz) a posh lifestyle. To that end, he gets in bed with Reiner (Bardem), a client of questionable means who helps him invest in a shipment of drugs that once moved across the Mexican border and onto American streets could net him in the neighborhood of $20 million. Despite warnings from Reiner and his partner Westray (Pitt), the counselor enters into this deal, and before you can say "ruthless drug cartel goons," things go south, and our rather dim hero and his lady love are on the run.
No one has a cool, detached visual style like Scott, and his aesthetic is a perfect match for the slick, ornate environs of the criminal elite at the story's center as well as the impassive, natural settings that serve as the backdrop for the film's many violent deaths. In the director's hands, the world of "The Counselor" is a cold, cruel one, and very little of the movie's problems can be laid at his feet.
Rather, most of the difficulty lies in McCarthy's script which contains far too many lines of dialogue that are better read off a page to oneself than uttered by an actor, no matter how skilled. So much of the dialogue comes off as preachy or too well thought out to be spontaneous, as far too many characters end up giving speeches in order to drive home life lessons rather than engage in natural conversation. This gives the film a stilted, robotic feel at times that runs counter to its setting and subject matter.
However, the major fault in the script lies in the way the main character is drawn. As written by McCarthy, this lawyer is the most naive, stupid lawyer to ever orbit in a drug runner's circle. He takes far too much time to get out of Dodge once things hit the fan, he fails to take simple precautions to protect the woman he loves and he seems genuinely surprised when the worst happens, even though he has been warned again and again not to play in the big boys' sandbox.
No question, McCarthy is one of the great writers of the 20th century, but like other literary giants who have tried their hand at the screenplay game, he stumbles in making the transition from page to screen.
For DVR alerts, film recommen-dations and movie news, follow Chuck Koplinski on Twitter at @ckoplinski. For his blog, head to http://www.news-gazette.com/blogs/cinema-scoping. Koplinski can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.