November 1, 2013

‘Last Vegas’ wins on many levels

Posted in Between Us column, Movies at 10:57 pm by dinaheng

Put five Academy Award® winning actors together in a crisply written comedy set in Sin City and you’ve got more than a sure-fire hit. You’ve got “Last Vegas.”

All bets are off when the Flatbush Four — four lifelong friends played by Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline — head to Vegas for a bachelor party to celebrate the marriage of group’s avowed bachelor to a woman half his age. When they meet a charming lounge singer named Diana (Mary Steenburgen), the weekend gets complicated.Dinah Eng

The film — which celebrates the power of friendship and love — is funny, touching, and unexpectedly wise because its insights into human relationships are spot on.

“In any group of friends, you’ll have an enormous lack of commonality,” says director Jon Turteltaub, sitting in a meeting room at the ARIA Resort and Casino in Vegas , where part of the movie was filmed. “There’s the guy you love and the guy you can’t stand, yet somehow you still love him. Friends share faith, and the sense that you’re safe with the other person.

“It’s almost more unconditional love than you get in a marriage because it’s not important to be attractive to the other person. You’re allowed to get fat.”

Turteltaub, who has directed such hits as “National Treasure” and “While You Were Sleeping,” says male friendships are marked by how horribly guys treat one other, as men bond by teasing and ripping on each other. This contrasts with the friendships of women, who are more prone to validate each other, he notes.

“Men would have to share an emotion first,” Turteltaub says, laughing. “The emotions shared at the beginning of this film are resentment and anger. It takes the whole movie to get to the fear and regret beneath those emotions.”

Another theme explored in “Last Vegas” deals with living life to the fullest at all stages of life. Sam (Kevin Kline) is lost in too early a retirement in Florida, while Archie (Morgan Freeman) is itching to break out from under the confines of an overly protective son in New Jersey. Paddy (Robert DeNiro) is mourning the loss of his wife in Brooklyn, and Billy (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy Malibu attorney who finally proposes to his girlfriend. When the four get together, the good old days are here again.

Jon Turteltaub directs "Last Vegas" scene. Jon Turteltaub directs scene in "Last Vegas." Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, courtesy of CBS Films.

Jon Turteltaub directs scene in “Last Vegas.” Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, courtesy of CBS Films.

Living life fully and acting your age, the director notes, is not easy.

“Sometimes it’s about not giving in to your age, and sometimes, it means growing up and not going out to chase the girls,” Turteltaub says. “Growing means you have to leave a perceived age behind. The signs are saying, ‘Death — five miles ahead,’ and you have to leave behind the things you love and feel safe with, which is scary.”

Not knowing when the end of our lives will be makes it hard to “pace ourselves with misery,” he adds.

Turteltaub says while members of the Baby Boomer generation may not want to act their age, the generation that followed may be worse, in another respect.

“We stay young at the beginning part of our lives too long, rather than at the end,” he says. “Your body doesn’t let you mess around with getting old, and we struggle with acting our age.”

Turteltaub was contacted by Amy Baer, then president and CEO of CBS Films, who asked him to consider directing “Last Vegas.”

“She sent me the script and said, ‘It’s a really small budget, around $27 million, and we’re not going to pay you a lot, but…’ ” Turtletaub recalls. “Given that, I didn’t read it right away, but when I did, I loved it.”

He says it took about six months to get the leads signed on because everyone was so busy, but once Douglas agreed, the others quickly followed. One of the most important characters in the film may not get screen credit, but Turteltaub puts it this way…

“Vegas is an important character, and may be the antagonist in the movie,” he says. “It’s a city that’s extremely seductive, inviting, and when you get here, extremely intimidating. It’s there to be conquered.”

And that, of course, is just what the Flatbush Four do.

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