Once the producers of “Last Vegas” had assembled the comedy’s core group of actors — Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline — there were still two key roles to cast: the hotel that represented the Vegas the lifelong best friends remembered from their prime, and the resort that symbolized the new, sleek Vegas they can’t quite comprehend.
For the latter, director Jon Turteltaub says scheduling problems knocked Wynn Las Vegas out of the running. And he ruled out Caesars Palace because of its ties to another bachelor-party movie, “The Hangover.” Then Aria entered the picture.
“We’re very selective. We get scripts and opportunities all the time,” says Carl Cohen, the hotel’s vice president of marketing. “And, more often than not, they’re just not the right place for us.”
In fact, only one other movie — this summer’s “Now You See Me,” which also starred Freeman — had filmed on the property.
“They sent us the script for our review. We immediately fell in love with it,” says Jenn Michaels, senior vice president of public relations at MGM Resorts International. “You don’t often see scripts where the location plays such an integral part in the storytelling. … You could tell immediately that the hotel was going to be a really important part of the story.”
The bulk of the “Last Vegas” takes place at Aria, from the lobby to the casino floor and from the pool to the cab line.
“We wouldn’t have shot in Vegas, I don’t think, unless we could have made the kind of arrangement we made with MGM Resorts,” Turteltaub says. “We needed so much. And the movie really needs to turn Vegas into a character. And without the kind of access we got, it would have impossible to do that.”
Then there was the hotel the characters were drawn to out of nostalgia, one they keep coming back to after meeting a lounge singer played by Mary Steenburgen.
“We were looking for someplace that still had the look of Old Vegas,” Turteltaub says. “It needed to be downtown and someplace that had some recognizability but that looked still old.”
“We were gonna go to the El Cortez,” he continues, “and the El Cortez told us to get lost. They said you’re making us look bad, get outta here. … They were, like, we have no desire to be the hotel that is the ‘not nice’ hotel.”
Binion’s had few such qualms, Turteltaub says.
“We did work a little bit on the script, because I wanted to make sure that we felt comfortable with how we were represented,” says Binion’s general manager Tim Lager.
“Binion’s totally got the joke,” Turteltaub says. “They understood what it was.”
Well, up to a point.
Near the end of the movie, De Niro’s character refers to Binion’s as “some (excrement)hole downtown.”
“What are you gonna do?” Lager says with a sigh. “It’s the movies.”
He was only allowed to read the parts of the script that took place at Binion’s, so the dig came as a surprise when he and his wife attended an early screening.
“It is what it is,” he says. “You know, obviously, we’re no Aria. We’re not a multibillion-dollar property, but we’re proud of our property.”
Did Turteltaub hear any fallout from the line?
“No, I haven’t. I think Binion’s are just great sports about the whole thing,” he says. “And when you think about it, it’s a great advertisement for the hotel. I mean how many times in the movie do we see that gorgeous neon sign they have?”
Lager agrees, calling the “Last Vegas” tie-in “really a positive experience for us.” Even despite getting blindsided by the slam.
“They gave us some really great shots of our facade,” he says. “I was really happy with that. They didn’t have to do that. … That’s priceless to me that we can get that exposure.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.