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'Last Vegas' is not necessarily about the city of old

The makers of 'Last Vegas' set about making a movie for a vibrant population. Costar Robert De Niro and director Jon Turteltaub reflect on the movie's metaphors.

October 31, 2013|By John Horn
  • “Last Vegas” with, from left, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas.
“Last Vegas” with, from left, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman,… (Chuck Zlotnick / CBS Films )

LAS VEGAS — From the 34th floor of the Aria Resort & Casino, a colossal hotel complex with more than 4,000 rooms and a 150,000-square-foot gambling floor, Robert De Niro surveyed what remained of the Las Vegas he once knew.

"I don't even recognize the place," the 70-year-old actor said, peering out the vertiginous, floor-to-ceiling windows in his suite. "I can't even imagine how much this city has changed. When you fly in here, it just goes on and on."

Asked to point out some of the locations where he and Martin Scorsese made "Casino" nearly two decades ago — specifically, the Riviera Hotel & Casino — De Niro was stumped and shook his head. All of Las Vegas' new construction, including the faux metropolis of CityCenter in which the Aria stood, blocked everything else. There was no escaping the mega-development bubble.

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That the Las Vegas of De Niro's memory had vanished from sight wasn't incidental. The veteran actor, along with three male cast mates equally of a certain age, traveled to Nevada last week to promote "Last Vegas," a long-in-the-works comedy about a group of long-in-the-tooth friends coming together for one final bachelor party.

Glibly described by some as a cross between "The Hangover" and "The Bucket List," the PG-13 comedy, opening Friday, intends to be something else: a reverse coming-of-age story in which the principals — De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline — try to navigate a world that has little interest in nostalgia and the elderly.

In some ways, that describes much of Hollywood itself, where actresses over 40 are considered dinosaurs and older moviegoers are usually treated as more of a box-office side dish, something that might just come along, than the main serving. "Last Vegas" is expected to take in around $16 million in its first weekend, but the real profitability test will come in the weeks ahead because older moviegoers don't usually rush to the multiplex on opening weekends.

CBS Films, which produced and distributed the $28-million movie, hopes that "Last Vegas" can replicate the performance of some other recent senior-themed success stories. A year ago, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," playing largely to ticket buyers close to retirement age, grossed more than $46 million domestically (and $136 million worldwide).

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In 2010, the Helen Mirren-Morgan Freeman spy story "Red" took in $90 million domestically; its sequel, released this summer, did milder business of $53.3 million. But other aging stars have seen their recent efforts disappoint. Two weeks ago, "Escape Plan" with 66-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger and 67-year-old Sylvester Stallone debuted with poor results and has grossed just $18 million to date.

Many years in development, "Last Vegas" was initially imagined as a vehicle for Jack Nicholson. Written by Dan Fogelman ("Crazy, Stupid, Love") and first set to be directed by Peter Chelsom ("Hannah Montana: The Movie"), the movie eventually was made by Jon Turteltaub, who was coming off the flop "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

Turteltaub, the 50-year-old director of the two "National Treasure" movies starring Nicolas Cage, previously had tried to tell another tale set in Las Vegas, an adaptation of James McManus' "Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker," only to be told by studio executives soon after the book's 2004 publication that no one was interested in the card game.

"Now," he says of Hollywood's take on poker, "it's done."

Wounded by the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" experience, Turteltaub said: "I thought there were two ways to go. I either needed a huge hit or I just needed to do something of a certain quality that was right for me and who I am as a director. I could have done four or five other movies, but nothing felt really right."

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While scripts for another "National Treasure" sequel came and went without receiving a green light, Turteltaub was given "Last Vegas," in which Douglas had replaced Nicholson. The idea was relatively straightforward. Pals from childhood, four friends with different lives, descend on Las Vegas to see the group's sole bachelor, Douglas' Billy, tie the knot with a much younger woman. Before he takes the plunge, though, Billy meets a single lounge singer (Mary Steenburgen), who also has caught the eye of De Niro's Paddy.

"There are certainly a lot of movies that are a better bet than four old guys reminiscing about their lives," Turteltaub said. But he saw the possibilities in the story and was reminded what CBS Corp. President Les Moonves (who recently turned 64) told him about the project: "A 68-year-old guy is not a schlepper with a walker. He's a vibrant, older man."

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