Tag Archives: C

LAST VEGAS

This is basically a geriatric version of “The Hangover”—four seventy-somethings go off to Vegas for a bachelor party—but since the target audience is clearly closer in age to the lead actors than to the moviegoers who made Todd Phillips’ slob comedy such a smash, the comedic tone of Jon Turteltaub’s movie is understandably gentler—naughty rather than nasty. “Last Vegas” is just an attempt to dust off the “Grumpy Old Men” playbook for the next generation of older stars, and it hardly breaks any new ground. But though thoroughly predictable, no more than mildly amusing, and utterly maudlin when it veers into sentimental mode, it’s a harmless enough vehicle for some old-timers to strut their stuff, a cinematic soft-shoe routine that’s definitely worn but tolerable.

The sparkplug of the plot involves the decision of wheeler-dealer and confirmed bachelor Billy (Michael Douglas) to pop the question to his thirty-something girlfriend (Bre Blair) while delivering a eulogy for a friend (and obviously feeling his own mortality). Quickly planning nuptials at a Vegas chapel, he phones two of his closest buddies—Archie (Morgan Freeman), who’s being smothered with concern by his son (Michael Ealy) after suffering a mild stroke, and Sam (Kevin Kline), who’s living in Florida with his understanding wife (Joanna Gleason)—to invite them to the ceremony. He tasks them to persuade the fourth member of their childhood Brooklyn posse of the fifties, Paddy (Robert De Niro), to come as well. The problem isn’t merely that Paddy has turned into a recluse following the death of his wife, but that he’s furious with Billy over his failure to attend her funeral. Of course, Paddy eventually tags along anyway, though his mood is surly, especially after he finds out the reason for the trip.

A lot of what ensues is by-the-numbers. The fellows bicker and party in approximately equal measure. They ogle young girls—especially Sam, whose wife has given him permission to cut loose. They gamble—especially Archie, whose skill at blackjack brings them special treatment at a casino, including a lavish penthouse suite and a personal concierge named Lonnie (Romany Malco), who’s initially disappointed that they’re not the famous rapper he’d expected to have as his guest but eventually warms to them. There’s also a curious plot turn involving them being passed off a mob guys in order to put an arrogant young twit (Joey Ferrara) in his place.

But the main thread involves the quartet getting to know Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a singer in a tiny casino lounge whom both Billy and Paddy find attractive. She’s a wisecracking but emotionally vibrant person whose presence brings up a great deal of past history the two men share which, while initially widening the breach between them, is ultimately the cause of their reconciliation—and of Billy’s finally realizing what he really needs.

The humor in “Last Vegas” is mostly very mild and sitcomish, banking on how cute these four geezers are as they have fun amidst the glitz of the city (which, of course, is periodically spotlighted in montages that are a recurrent element of David Henning’s standard-issue cinematography). And viewers can rest assured that all the plot threads work out for the best. That’s true even of the thread that finds Sam searching for somebody to share his condom with, which leads him first to hit on a lady at a bar who turns out to be a guy in drag (Roger Bart)—a interlude that’s the basis for a little lesson in friendly acceptance of people different from you—and then nearly to score with a young bridesmaid—an episode that turns into a lesson about marital fidelity.

The stars seem to be having a good time despite the feebleness of the material. Billy certainly doesn’t strain Douglas’ acting muscles the way Liberace did, but he’s agreeable enough, while De Niro tones down the gruffness of his earlier comic turns in “Meet the Fockers” and “Analyze This” (not to mention “The Family”) a bit this time around, to good effect. Freeman pretty much coasts on his affability, and though a saccharine scene with Ealy toward the close could have well been excised (like most of the obligatory sentimental moments scattered toward the finale), another that gives him a chance to show off on the dance floor is pleasant. Kline outstrips the others, however, often enlivening scenes that have little or no potential through sheer force of will, and Steenburgen is her usual charming self, like Kline transcending what she’s given to work with.

Nobody would acclaim “Last Vegas” as any kind of comic classic. But as a vehicle for these four familiar faces, it’s a genial enough bit of old-timer fluff, especially with Steenburgen tagging along for the ride.

ESCAPE PLAN

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger face off against each other at one point in “Escape Plan,” briefly slugging it out, and if you’ve ever seen “The Lost World,” in which a tyrannosaurus Rex and a brontosaurus do battle, you’ll have some idea of what their fight looks like. The comparison is apt not just because both men are such huge, brawny specimens (some would even go so far as to call them cinematic dinosaurs, though perhaps for reasons beyond the physiological ), but because while both can have trouble delivering dialogue, they’re still capable of emitting a solid bovine roar.

As for the rest of the movie, there’s not an awful lot that’s noteworthy, except for one major point. The plot is basically that old saw about a righteous fellow going undercover in a brutal prison where he gets trapped among the population and has to find a way out using his wits. But In this case, the facility is an internationally-funded, totally off-the-books lockup where the worst of the worst are deposited, without benefit of due process, not only to disappear for good but to be capriciously brutalized by the staff. And since the inmates are the ones who get our sympathy, the result is that the viewer finds himself rooting for terrorists and other malefactors, while being disgusted by practices such as tasing and waterboarding hapless prisoners. Is the film intended as a critique of the extreme measures often adopted in the so-called “war on terror”? (Director Mikael Hafstrom is a Swede, after all.)

Of course, the action crowd might not even notice such a subversive subtext and simply concentrate on the he-man heroics. Stallone plays Ray Breslin, supposedly the world’s expert on prison security who’s authored the standard tome on the subject. He makes his living entering federal prisons as an inmate and then breaking out to reveal their security inadequacies so that the authorities can rectify them. The picture’s initial reel shows him methodically working his way out of a maximum-security facility and then explaining to the frazzled warden how he did it.

Sleepy-eyed, brooding, grumpy Stallone isn’t remotely convincing as such a scientifically-minded, analytical character to begin with, but the script makes it even harder to accept him in the role when it proceeds to offer a back story portraying Breslin as a onetime hotshot prosecutor who turned to his current occupation after suffering a terrible job-related loss. And it strains credibility even further when it asks us to believe that a man of Breslin’s smarts would happily abandon the protective rules he’s honed over time to accept a job offered by a CIA official to test his skill at “black-ops” central. Yes, the gig pays double his usual fee—five million—and his oily partner (Vincent D’Onofrio) salivates over the profit potential; but the aides Ray depends on—pretty Abigail (Amy Ryan) and computer expert Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, as implausible a fit for his role as Stallone is for Breslin)—object that it’s much too dangerous.

As it turns out, Abby and Hush were right. After he’s abducted off the street, the tiny GPS plant Hush has injected into Ray’s arm is painfully removed, and when he wakes up in the mazelike facility where prisoners are stored in tiny glass cubicles stacked atop one another, coolly sadistic warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel)—whose name is presumably intended to remind us of the bleak view of humanity articulated in the “Leviathan”—airily dismisses his “extraction code,” which is supposed to release him immediately, as meaningless. Breslin is permanently stuck in a place that certainly looks escape-proof, unable to contact his associates on the outside. (The reason for his plight is eventually revealed, but is glaringly obvious from the get-go.)

Fortunately, one of the other inmates—the amusingly named Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger, sporting a rather becoming goatee)—shows a friendly interest in him, even preventing him from getting a newbie’s beating. In time Breslin will enlist Emil in preparing a break-out—which, of course, is what the last reel is all about.

Over the course of its surprisingly lethargic two-hour running-time, “Escape Plan” springs a lot of would-be twists, including one at the close that Breslin says he never saw coming, even though astute viewers will be way ahead of him. But a greater problem is that apart from a few action sequences—the brief Sly-Arnold rumble and the culminating chaotic escape—the script largely consists of dialogue sequences. And while Schwarzenegger rips into them with zest, delivering his not-very-good lines with an amused twinkle in his eye that almost manages to make them sound fresh (and really savoring a long tirade in German), Stallone recites his lines in the usual tired monotone, making them seem even worse than they actually are. If this is an acting duel, it’s one Arnold wins hands down; while Stallone appears to be merely going through the motions, Schwarzenegger really seems to be enjoying himself, perhaps happy to no longer be compelled to perform in the political arena, a much more demanding stage.

Otherwise the cast is a mixed bag. Caviezel apparently relishes the chance to go steely-eyed bad, and festoons his turn with all sorts of weird little tics and flourishes. (Being a terribly villainous fellow, Hobbes listens to classical music, of course, but at least this time it’s Chopin, not Mozart.) Vinnie Jones plays his evil henchman with a perpetual sneer, and Sam Neill brings little to the role of the prison’s conflicted doctor but a mild world-weariness. Among the others Jackson comes across as totally at sea, and D’Onofrio is Caviezel’s opposite number, opting for frantic, sweaty gesticulation in contrast to Hobbes’s precise, prim demeanor. Faran Tahir is impressively pugnacious as another inmate, a Moslem drug-dealer whose help Breslin seeks after an initial bout of antagonism. (Yes, a Muslim is a hero in this secret prison, too.) Ryan is merely decorative, but does that well enough.

On the technical side the movie is more than adequate, with Barry Chusid’s production design fairly imaginative in its depiction of the prison’s central core, even if the place’s overall layout—particularly when Stallone is clambering about its inner tunnels and stairwells—is never made clear. (That’s certainly the case in the final reel, when the places the escapees race around seem utterly arbitrary.) Brendan Galvin’s cinematography is okay, though it bleaches out most of the color and goes muddy in some of the last-reel action, but Elliott Greenberg’s editing could be crisper and Alex Heffes’ score less bombastic.

“Escape Plan” may satisfy people who have been salivating for a Stallone-Schwarzenegger team-up since the 1980s and won’t mind that it’s no improvement over the mindless stuff both were making individually back then. But apart from the curious political subtext, it’s mostly a standard-issue innocent-man-breaking-out-of-jail movie, enlivened primarily by Schwarzenegger’s sense of abandon.