When Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Robert De Niro signed up for the geriatric Hangover caper Last Vegas, they firmly cemented themselves in a somewhat new genre: the coming of old-age story. These four men, all still in the primes of their lives and well-respected actors getting wonderful roles, felt the need to star in a film that constantly brought up two points: these guys are old guys, and these old guys still know how to roll with the youngins’.
Why? These four could bust up Vegas any day, without having to get pushed in pools, or fistfighting bros, or seeing Freeman dance-shuffle to “September.” It’s a cry saying, “we’re still here, look how much fun we can have,” but nobody ever entertained the notion of them ever leaving. The wacky old men concept hasn’t just popped out of nowhere. In fact, some of the Last Vegas men are repeat offenders. The upcoming Grudge Match, starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, is about two aging boxers who, quite literally, try to prove that they’ve still got it. It looks ridiculous and features a lot of jokes about how out of shape and old they’ve both gotten since their glory days. Why do the former Jake LaMotta and Rocky Balboa want to do this to themselves?
Morgan Freeman, of course, starred in 2007’s saccharine buddy movie The Bucket List, in which he and Jack Nicholson decided to live it up after they have both been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The twosome skydive, visit the pyramids…hire a prostitute…basically have a laugh riot while battling their devastating illnesses. Even in the very face of death, they must bend to this image of the smiling party dude; it’s okay to cry. Really. Nicholson, has carved out a niche for himself in his later years playing the smarmy ladies man (not necessarily a bad thing actually), best exemplified in 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give. While simultaneously courting age-appropriate Diane Keaton, he spends the rest of the film freaking out about how he could fall for something like her when he usually goes for the models (and Keaton’s daughter at one point). Subtext: Nicholson is an older man who digs him some younger ladies.
The list goes on and on. Old Dogs and Wild Hogs are two cheesier, infinitely worse incarnations of this type of film. And the problem is getting worse. The insecurities and attention-seeking tropes of “getting older but not getting lame, amiright?” are trickling down to the middle-aged set, as seen in the Grown Ups franchise. Compounded with the fact that Adam Sandler and crew are a pack of wild man-children, forcing them into a story where they confront their own mortality and attempt to revert to their youth is a splitting headache of a premise. Not to mention, it doesn’t make too much sense; if the boys are concerned about their wasted youth in their early 40s, whats to become of them when they become Last Vegas-aged? Won’t someone think of the poor bikini babes?
But audiences are eating it up. Last Vegas pulled in a better-than-expected $16.5m during its opening weekend, off of a $28m budget – but as The Hollywood Reporter pointed out, its baby boomer demographic generally doesn’t rush to see movies during opening weekends, and will likely bolster that box office gross in the coming weeks. Grown Ups was a massive success in 2010, raking in a domestic total of $162m and following it up with $133.3m in 2013 for Grown Ups 2. The Bucket List, as panned as it was, brought in $93.5m. And it’s likely that Grudge Match will find success as well. People are eager to see respectable actors make fools of themselves; there’s no doubt about it.
For Actors of a Certain Age, the gentle lull of self-depricating comedy can’t be the end, but it’s certainly what it feels like. Even the poster for Last Vegas looked like a wistful In Memoriam about four fallen friends; with careers still going strong, that is definitely not the message you want portrayed. Audiences know who you are and what you’re about: why now, so far into your careers, are you so desperate to please?