Is This the Start of the AARP Pack, a Rival to the Rat Pack and Brat Pack?
Director: JON TURTELTAUB/2013
The 2001 Ocean’s 11 remake, starring George Clooney, was in many ways, an attempt to resurrect the hip ensemble vibe of a bygone era. The Rat Pack of the 1950’s and ’60’s were legendary, and still are to this day. George Clooney created an ensemble cast in the vein of the Rat Pack that ranged from elderly veterans such as Carl Reiner and Elliot Gould, all the way down to young twenty-somethings like Shaobo Qin, Scott Caan and Casey Affleck. Other ensemble groups had attempted such feats in the past. The 1980’s “Brat Pack” is probably the most famous attempt, that also had staying power. With the baby boomer generation now entering their retirement years over the next decade, I believe we are entering a new era of ensemble films that might be respectfully dubbed the AARP Pack. While this has been attempted in more recent times with aging actors, in Space Cowboys or Red, for example, Last Vegas may be the first true hit in a new line of attempts into this genre.
Last Vegas stars Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline as a group of close-knit friends seeking to reconnect for Michael Douglas’ first wedding, to a girl over half his age. This group of friends goes back 60 years and we are given a glimpse of their lives as kids growing up in New York before encountering them present day. Michael Douglas plays Billy, a hot shot in L.A. who has never really grown up, but who who holds a deep affection for his childhood friends, including Paddy, played by Robert De Niro, whom he is estranged with. Paddy still lives in New York and has been a widower for the past year, having lost his wife who was also part of their childhood gang. Morgan Freeman is Archie who has an over-protective son who constantly keeps Archie from participating in anything fun because of some recent health scares. Finally, Kevin Kline is Sam, a man who is bored with his life and longs for something to wake him out of his mundane existence. Billy’s wedding, and the opportunity to throw Billy a bachelor party, provides all of them the opportunity to reconnect, deal with past grievances, and begin to live life again.
At first glance, this film could have easily gone a few directions. Some have described the trailer as an elderly version of The Hangover, while others have commented that is more like Bachelor Party for seniors. Fortunately, the film is none of those and is able to cast its net wider than the age demographic of its leads. As the Rat Pack once ruled the Vegas Strip, so these seniors come seeking to do the same. Through a series of events they find themselves meeting an older lounge singer named Diana, played by Mary Steenburgen, who finds herself being pined for by both Paddy, who is slowly making steps to get past the death of his wife, and Billy, who is having cold-feet of marrying his 30-year old bride.
Given that these guys are pushing up in age, we are dealt all of the geriatric jokes that we can probably expect in a film like this. Kevin Kline’s character, Sam, has been given permission to be with another woman by his wife with the hope that he’ll find himself again and come back to her happy. Besides the “what happens in Vegas” plot point that this is derived from, it opens up the door for the typical Viagra jokes, as well as weak heart jokes we were anticipating. This is especially true as our seasoned-leads begin to party in Vegas with a bunch of beautiful 20-somethings. They are even invited to guest judge a bikini competition which invites blood pressure jokes, and many gags involving them not understanding modern culture, culminating in a very funny scene with Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent.
Yet despite these obvious comedic subjects that are go-to targets, Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, Cool Runnings) directs this film with much heart, probing past the agism inherent in the script and widens his gaze to include timeless subjects that draw in people of all ages. Themes such as friendship, loyalty, love, honor, respect, and sacrifice swirl around each of these characters as they give us all a glimpse of how the values of yesteryear might just be what is needed in a culture suffering from a hangover of post-modern malaise.
This is not to say that Last Vegas is a perfect film. In fact it follows a very particular formula that one could find in over a dozen other films. That being said, the gravitas and experience of the seasoned veterans that lead this ensemble cast raise the level of what would otherwise be a mediocre comedy and inject it with enough emotion that allows you will find yourself enjoying the film far more than you might have expected to.
Ultimately, Last Vegas shows us all that while its cast may be aging, they are very much alive and well. The chemestry that they demonstrated in this film will surely pave the way for a whole new sub-genre of films featuring aging actors that show they’re not past their prime, and that was pioneered by films such Stallone’s latest resurrection of films such as Rocky Balboa, Rambo, and The Expendables, as well as the aforementioned Red and Space Cowboys. If not a new genre, then it will at least spawn a bunch of copy cats comedy films hoping to reach out to the same movie-going, aging baby boomers as this one is.
Last Vegas is good enough to know that the things that matter to the older generation can still matter to all generations and in that way it will reach a much wider audience than it’s being marketed for. In light of this, maybe we’ve seen the start of a whole new ensemble who is ready to entertain both senior, and youngster alike, in much the same way as the Rat Packs and Brat Packs before them. Maybe this is the dawning of the age of the AARP Pack.