In Last Vegas, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline play four childhood friends that reunite to celebrate the pending nuptials of the group’s long-term bachelor, Billy (Douglas). The sole marital hold-out among his boyhood companions, Billy has decided to tie the knot with Lisa (Bre Blair) a thirty-something woman who the group believes is little more than an attempt for their friend to avoid facing his actual age.
Undeterred by their concerns and complaints, Billy reunites the “Flatbush Four” for his bachelor party, one last night of debauchery on the Las Vegas strip. Eager to break free of their respective “prisons” (a stale marriage, overprotective son, and life-halting grief), Sam (Kline), Archie (Freeman), Paddy (De Niro), and Billy are unprepared when the scandal of Vegas, along with the complications of aging bodies, outdated cultural norms, and long-kept secrets, throw the pals into a series of absurd scenarios – that will test the strength of their near-70-year friendship.
Ever since Last Vegas was first announced, the project has been branded with the (understandable) notion that CBS Films, along with director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) and writer Dan Fogelman (Crazy. Stupid. Love), were merely trying to capitalize on the success of The Hangover series – by mixing aging protagonists into the Vegas group-comedy equation. While there’s no doubt that Last Vegas shares similarities with Todd Phillips’ iconic comedy franchise, trading the Wolfpack for the aged Flatbush Four, Turteltaub’s film is a much more sentimental and less over-the-top offering. Instead of outrageous and gross-out gags, Last Vegas is a harmless and humorous (but not particularly memorable) chance to watch fan-favorite veteran actors riff on their old age in an eccentric setting.
In fact, serving-up comedic opportunities for Douglas, De Niro, Freeman, and Kline is the primary function of the Last Vegas narrative – which includes a thin layer of heart-warming filler to help ground the hijinks. Few of the jokes deliver legitimate laugh-out-loud surprises and the rumination on growing old as well as true love aren’t particularly profound but, as a whole, the Last Vegas story and comedy beats combine into a competent and well-rounded experience – one that will be especially relatable for anyone who has begun to experience the challenges (mentally and physically) of aging.
Though, this is not to say that Last Vegas is only for moviegoers who hold an AARP card. The characters and the diverse situations they encounter could be entertaining for certain younger viewers – if for no other reason than satirical juxtaposition. Younger moviegoers who were entirely uninterested by the Last Vegas trailers aren’t likely to be won-over but the movie includes plenty of references to modern pop culture (references the characters often do not understand) to ensure that viewers who are much younger than the Flatbush Four protagonists can still be entertained.
The conflict between Billy (Douglas) and Paddy (De Niro) is at the center of Last Vegas and its attempt to explore love and companionship – they are the only two members of the group who no longer get along. To that end, Douglas is serviceable as Billy – a once “invincible” ladies man that is now struggling to face the reality of his age. However, the actor never presents Billy as a complete cliche and, despite somewhat naive views about love, he’s a sympathetic leading man – even if Douglas doesn’t get as many set piece laughs as the rest of the cast. De Niro, as usual, makes the most of what he’s given, and elevates the “emotional heart” of the story – while Paddy’s friends are busy dancing, drinking, and trying to get laid. It’s hardly the most evocative performance of De Niro’s extensive career but his expertise in providing humor and gravity to even the most absurd projects (see: The Big Wedding) successfully sell several scenes that, in the hands of a less capable actor, would have undercut key non-comedy beats.
Freeman and Kline, playing Archie and Sam, respectively, get their own character arcs, but their primary function is to explore that “Hangover with old people” setup at nearly every turn. As a result, it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that the pair is easily the most enjoyable and, at times, endearing element of the movie. Paddy and Billy are sometimes mired by heavy-handed storylines but watching Archie and Sam explore the debauchery of Las Vegas, in an attempt to rediscover a youthful playfulness, presents a number of great encounters – even if the jokes (and certain plot outcomes) are easily predicted.
The cast is rounded-out by other recognizable faces in key, but minor, roles. Romany Malco (Weeds) and Jerry Ferrara (Entourage) get to poke-fun at the Flatbush Four but, as the film progresses, become likable counter-points to the veteran stars and each get a few laughs of their own. Mary Steenburgen (Back to the Future III), as lounge-singer Diana, has no trouble keeping up with Douglas, De Niro, and the rest of the gang – easily knocking each of the well-known stars (via their characters) down a peg.
Last Vegas is hardly the most creative, innovative, or fresh film concept that has come through the pipeline in recent memory. Without question, the movie borrows heavily from other Vegas-set buddy comedies, especially The Hangover series, resulting in a lot of familiar jokes and story ideas that are not as engaging this round – despite the “elderly” angle. Yet, the film’s star-studded cast of actors manage to make certain rehashed moments slightly more engaging – meaning that Last Vegas lands somewhere in the middle of the films that came before it: a mix of formulaic and inspired comedy that will entertain in the moment, even if it falls short of setting the bar any higher.
Viewers who were intrigued by the Last Vegas trailer should have a pretty good idea of what to expect: a film that allows fan-favorite actors the chance to poke fun at each other, aging, and Las Vegas culture, while including enough heart to make up for any especially worn-out jokes.
If you’re still on the fence about Last Vegas, check out the trailer below:
Last Vegas runs 105 minutes and is Rated PG-13 on appeal for sexual content and language. Now playing in theaters.
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