The movie I really wanted to see was in limited release this week, forcing me to wait for the romantic comedy that promises to be a hit and instead venture into another horror flick, a sci-fi movie based on a book I’ve never read, or a comedy about 60-somethings hitting on 20-somethings. Fully aware that I wasn’t exactly the target demographic, I headed to see Last Vegas, starring Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert DeNiro, and Kevin Kline.
Last Vegas opens on five best friends—Paddy, Sophie, Billy, Archie, and Sam–getting into a “legendary” fight with a school bully. Then, the film fast forwards 58 years for the audience to witness a most inappropriate marriage proposal as Billy (Douglas) proposes to his 31 year-old girlfriend while delivering the eulogy at a friend’s funeral. (Yeesh.) Meanwhile, Paddy (DeNiro) sits solemnly in his bathrobe, mourning the death of his wife, Sophie, a year ago. After a stroke, Archie (Freeman) is stuck living with his overprotective son. And Sam (Kline) is bored by his Florida retirement. The opportunity to throw a Las Vegas bachelor party for long-time ladies’ man Billy excites Archie and Sam, even if they have to deal with bad blood between Billy and Paddy to make it happen. Once in Vegas, however, the friends find themselves living the high life and getting into plenty of trouble, especially when they meet Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a sharp-witted lounge singer. Yet, as this film dwells on love and mortality, there’s plenty of sentimentalism too.
Last Vegas was not as bad as I thought it was going to be, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement. In every way, the film feels like a rip off of other movies. It’s like one part Rat Pack, one part The Hangover with a dash of The Bucket List for good measure. The greatest flaw of the movie is its predictability. Without even trying, I felt like I was consistently two steps ahead of the screenplay. Given the enormous talent of the cast, the obviousness of the writing feels like a waste. Sure, it was fun to see such great actors banter together, but why not actually make a good movie while you’re paying them?
Despite the predictability and the inevitable comparisons to The Hangover, I did enjoy the way the film subverted some of the expectations of the genre. In situations where I expected the film’s humor to take a mean turn, I was instead delighted by the sincerity and the maturity of the characters. For example, when Sam (who was given permission to cheat by his wife of 40 years) accidentally hits on a drag queen, the movie doesn’t go for the easy gay panic moment. Instead, we later find Sam having drinks with several drag queens and talking about football with his new friends.
The humor is really the saving grace of the film. The banter between the four friends provides a solid foundation for the palpable chemistry between the actors. The sentimental moments move the plot along, but the real entertainment in the film lies in watching Douglas, DeNiro, Freeman, and Kline make cracks on each other, pretend to be mob bosses, and cut a rug with twenty year-olds. When the film tries too hard to be risque, it comes off as creepy, but when it focuses on the friendship, I can buy the performances. In this regard, Mary Steenburgen was essential to the humor of the film. The May-December flirtations get stale quickly, but her character steals scenes in a way that balances out some of the film’s blatant sexism and ageism. I loved her from the moment she responded to Paddy’s remark about her age with, “Prince Charming, is that you? You’re so much shorter than I thought you’d be.” Although there’s something saccharine about the way her character obviously fills the space in the group vacated after Sophie’s passing, her humor is sour enough that it makes the dynamic really work.
For great actors in an utterly mediocre film, I rate Last Vegas 3/5 stars.
Last Vegas was written by Dan Fogelman and directed by Jon Turteltaub. It runs 90 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.
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