“…just like De Niro in Casino.” we hear Will Ferrell’s Scott Johansen say in the trailer for The House as he considers sending a very painful message to a gambler who’s been cheating. That callback to the Martin Scorsese-directed crime drama is all the excuse I need to use it as the basis for this week’s Flashback movie marketing review.
Casino, released in 1995, was very much seen as a follow-up of sorts to 1990’s Goodfellas, with both movies not only directed by Scorsese but featuring both Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. De Niro plays Sam Rothstein, an underworld-connected entrepreneur who, with his partner Nicky (Pesci) move to Las Vegas to make their millions on the gambling scene of the mid-1970s. The two work alright together but eventually come into conflict not just over the direction of the business but over the affections of Ginger (Sharon Stone), who Sam has married but who Nicky lusts after. As should be expected, things get violent and filled with vengeance.
The movie has never been my favorite Scorsese picture, mostly because it felt like a glitzier take on Goodfellas, a lesser-than follow-up as the talent tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice. But it’s maintained a good reputation, mostly because of its epic scale and amazing visuals, for which Scorsese truly deserves credit.
The poster is designed to trade almost solely on the star power involved and evoke the previous movie from this team. The floating heads of De Niro, Pesci and Stone are all arranged against a black sky that lingers above what’s clearly the Las Vegas Strip, brightly lit at the bottom of the image. It’s simple, slick and uses the actors as the primary selling point. The slight orange glow everyone has is in keeping with the visual aesthetic of the movie itself, which is drenched in that coloring to symbolize the mix of desert sun and harsh neon Vegas is filled with and known for.
The trailer starts off with Sam talking about how good he is and how big his casino is. Standard shots of money being loaded and unloaded follow. Sam is offered his own casino operation as a reward for his loyalty and success. Nicky comes out but it’s clear his tough guy style is going to cause friction in the more refined waters of Vegas. Sam begins courting Ginger, a waitress, and marries her. Then things start to go south, particularly because of Nicky’s reckless and violent behavior. Ginger starts threatening to talk to the Feds, Nicky gets more and more unpredictable and all the time Sam wants to keep things together, asking for total trust and that people just listen to him because he knows what’s best.
Like the poster, it knows exactly what it wants the audience to take away, which is that this is a reteaming of the core players from Goodfellas but this time with the action taking place in 1970s Las Vegas. It’s filled with violence and hints at betrayal among the various thieves and mobsters, all while maintaining a flashy veneer that covers the ugly motivations and actions of the characters, much like Vegas itself.
Both of these elements work very well together, giving off the same brand look and feel and making the same basic appeal to audiences, which is that this is a high-quality movie from people you enjoy working together once more. It never explicitly name-drops Goodfellas, but it doesn’t need to, the implication is there, though the campaign still stands just fine on its own. And special shoutout to the music used in the trailer, though while the Rolling Stones song is great the fact that “Layla” isn’t heard here means a major moment in the story isn’t even mildly spoiled.