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Ender’s Game & Last Vegas

November 7, 2013

Ender’s Game (**) PG-13

It’s best to begin this review with the disclaimer that I went into the experience of Ender’s Game having not read the book and with little to no knowledge of the story elements contained therein. This was intentional on my part, in spite of the fact that I actually own a copy of the book. I am aware that writer Orson Scott Card’s acclaimed 1985 novel is highly regarded in many circles, particularly among fans of science fiction novels. With all of the praise that has been heaped on Card’s book over the decades since its release, I can only assume that the source material is more imaginative and inventive than the film that has been spawned by the novel.

As a film Ender’s Game is predictable, uninspired, and downright boring for most of its running time, the majority of which consists of a story line involving the title character Ender going through his clichéd paces as a commander in training. If you’ve seen any film tracing the steps of a character being groomed to save the world, you’ll groan with each predictable set piece. The film does manage to come alive during the last fifteen minutes, but by then it’s a bit of too much, too little, too late.

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is the character of the film’s title. He’s painted in very broad strokes as being the sensitive, shy, and introspective type and has been recruited as a military leader by Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford), due to his uncanny analytical abilities.

Asa Butterfield and Harrison For in Ender’s Game

Graff knows that Ender’s gifts will come in handy should the Earth find itself under attack once again by an alien race known as the Formics, who have wreaked untold devastation here before. The majority of the plot deals with the standard stuff inherent in too many films like this as Ender works hard to command the respect of his fellow recruits, has a quasi romance with another cadet (Hailey Steinfeld of True Grit fame) and becomes a video game wiz during his off-hours. Unfortunately, it doesn’t add up to much and the story proves to be so clunky and bland that anything that isn’t the least bit predictable is welcomed.

There is one element of the story that comes as a surprise and, as I said, it’s way too late in the film. This section, unfortunately, comes across as a contrived setup for an Ender’s Game sequel, which I’m positive will transpire should the film prove to be successful.

Much ado has been made about made about author Card’s anit-gay stance in interviews. I will say that the filmmakers have opted to stay away from this subject. Some might say this is a wise choice but I can’t help but wonder if a little controversy might have done the film some good. As it stands, there’s not much else to recommend it.

Last Vegas (** ½)

It’s obvious that the new buddy comedy Last Vegas desperately wants to be classified in the same category as the Hangover franchise, right down to the film’s setting. The biggest difference, not counting the difference in ages of the cast, is that whereas the original Hangover film had the occasional plot complication to move things along, the only thing that Last Vegas has going for it is its star power. The plot of is strictly of the sitcom style variety, with nothing unpredictable or surprising really taking place as the film’s story is unveiled. It is undeniable that the film’s veteran performers give it their all and their chemistry alone carries things along farther than I would have predicted. Still, said chemistry can only do so many wonders and what we’re left with it is a chuckle here and there and not much of anything else to take notice of.  No real risks are taken both in terms of the film’s story or the actor’s performances.

Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert DeNiro), Archie (Morgan Freeman), and Sam (Kevin Kline) are boyhood friends who grew up together in Brooklyn in the 1950s.

Great actors in Last Vegas: Kline, Freeman, DeNiro & Douglas

We’re shown a prologue at the beginning of the film that fills us in on some of the details. Now, 58 years later, the boys are no longer boys. They’re senior citizens, scattered about, and rarely see each other anymore.

All of the former friends are retired with the exception of Billy, who’s done everything he possibly can to hold on to his youth. This includes the cliché of the trophy girlfriend half his age. When Billy decides to finally tie the knot after being a lifelong bachelor, he enlists his friends to come out to Vegas to celebrate. This proves especially problematic when it comes to the relationship between Billy and Paddy as Paddy holds a grudge against Billy for not showing up at his recently deceased wife’s funeral.

Once the four men arrive in Vegas, the usual shenanigans one would expect in a formulaic picture such as this one ensue. For starters, there’s the inevitable attempt at gambling wherein the outcome is dictated well in advance and then later, the bachelor party where all the simmering resentments between the men will come to a head. As I said, the chemistry between the four leads is appealing. They are also aided immeasurably by the presence of Mary Steenburgen as a former tax lawyer who has followed her dream to Vegas of becoming a professional singer. Once Billy sets his sights on the chanteuse he begins to reconsider all of his previous notions concerning love. This leads to more rivalry between Billy and Paddy as Paddy also has his sights set on the lady.

Last Vegas basically is what you would expect. It’s the typical bland studio product that isn’t bad enough to hate but is far from being good enough to recommend. Some may find it worth seeing just to spend time with these characters; others beware.

These movies are playing at the Carmike in Hickory and area theaters.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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