Four Feet in the Grave
Warning: This review discusses aspects of the plot.
Last Vegas has been billed by some; we’ll call them lazy bastards, as a geriatric Hangover, and superficially there are similarities. Both stories revolve around a group of male friends heading to Vegas for one last irresponsible weekend before a member of the troupe gets shackled to a woman (or Morlocks as they’re known in Hollywood), both quietly lament the loss of freedom that comes with matrimonial servitude, because even the best bride is a gaoler in disguise, and both use the Vegas setting as cover for embracing misogyny. It’s anthropological of course; Vegas is full of showgirls, prostitutes and chemically docile bachelorettes who’ll blow you for a handful of casino chips, but you may think a film that gleefully dips its toe in this pool of human degradation and desperation has a job selling itself as a heart-warming story of love and friendship.
Yet Last Vegas tries to do just that and in this it hopes to distance itself from the cynicism and vulgarity of the Hangover series. Initially it looks promising. Jon Turteltaub’s pitch for audience investment is four characters diminished by old age. Morgan Freeman’s mollycoddled and on meds, suffering the indignity of being infantlised by an idiot son, Kevin Kline’s got a great wife but a boring life and is subsequently sexually dysfunctional and depressed, Robert De Niro’s a widower whose only human contact is a soup making neighbour, while Michael Douglas, in a set up that must have presented the actor with the greatest challenge of his career, plays a rich old pervert who’s eschewed commitment most of his adult life but is now about to settle for a woman less than half his age. With four feet in the grave we’re inclined to believe that a debauched weekend is just what these childhood chums need but once ensconced in Nevada’s cultural necropolis director Turteltaub takes as many risks as an all-night gambler, testing our sympathies.
Dan Fogelman’s screenplay, aping a Vegas call girl, wants it both ways. On the one hand it strives to be touching and poignant, exploring the estrangement of De Niro and Douglas over the woman they both loved (whom Douglas generously gifted to De Niro without his knowledge) and their mutual lusting after Mary Steenburgen’s lounge singer, while a sub-plot has Kline’s five star wife hand him a Viagra pill and a condom at the airport, with instructions to bang a Vegas violet to rejuvenate his withered loins. This, Fogelman knows, presents a couple of dangers. Unless he keeps a vice-like grip on the material we could be left with a movie in which a good man gleefully betrays his wife while De Niro and Douglas engage in tit for tit fem trading. The movie deals with the problem by having Kline pull out before full intercourse can take place, with a mawkish speech about his wife delivered to a topless girl a third of his age, and Steenburgen calling the men out on their commodification of her, resulting in De Niro quietly withdrawing from the race so his friend can have a clear run. We’ve left with a movie that just about gets away with it, provided you don’t think too hard.
Everyone in Last Vegas ultimately does the “right thing” and this may fool you into believing that it’s a moral and sensitive picture, but it’s a flick that reduces its female characters to enablers as it navigates its precarious course. It’s one thing for Morgan Freeman to coach an ignorant young buck on respect for the ladies, another for the same flick to ogle them, patronise them and position them as plot balm to reconcile two male characters. Steenburgen, perhaps at her insistence, is infused with a little character – a short bio and a few decent lines – never less than likeable, but her real function, as she’s canny enough to realise in-movie, is to act as a bevaginated settlement for an long standing debt. It’s enough to make you feel old.