On the theatrical poster for Last Vegas, the film’s four decorated leading men all appear rather elegant, the one-sheet’s black-and-white hue only serving to add classiness to their perfect teeth and silky-smooth suits. Give them each a clean glass with some ice cubes, and they could be selling a new whiskey brand. What’s ironic about this is that the film Last Vegas derives most of its enjoyment factor from its actors’ clear-as-day willingness to make themselves look as old, absent-minded, and out-of-touch as possible. Rare is the scene here that doesn’t make some passing mention of prescription medication for sore joints, or the characters’ inability to perform any kind of physical task without collapsing onto the floor. That the actors are so game in this regard is the film’s most amusing quality.
Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), working from an original screenplay by Dan Fogelman (Tangled; Crazy, Stupid, Love.), begins the film with a Brooklyn-set blast from the past. Over the opening credits, the childhood versions of the film’s marquee actors—along with a girl named Sophie, who will come to serve an important role in the story’s emotional stakes—are shown making a series of funny faces in a photo booth. Not long after, the four boys, who proudly call themselves the “Flatbush Four,” get in an altercation with a few bully-types in a convenience store. They escape the fight, stealing a prized bottle of scotch in the process, and, as they sprint away from the store in a rush of adolescent adrenaline, the film gets a good laugh by cutting to a title card that reads, “58 Years Later.”
On cue, Turteltaub and Fogelman waste no time in presenting a where-are-they-now? series of scenes: Sam (Kevin Kline), in the midst of a forty-year marriage, is living the retired life in Florida, though he has a burst of energy in him that suggests he may not be relishing the aimlessness of post-work life; Archie (Morgan Freeman), also retired, is coming off a stroke, and finds himself tediously recuperating in the New Jersey home of his too-vigilant, married-with-a-kid son (Michael Ealy); Paddy (Robert De Niro) is the only one still living in Brooklyn, though he spends his days cooped up in his ragged apartment, mourning the death of his cherished wife, Sophie (from the prologue); and Billy (Michael Douglas), a successful, high-priced Malibu attorney, has taken the unprecedented step of proposing marriage to his much-younger girlfriend while presenting the eulogy at his mentor’s funeral.
Billy’s impulsive marriage proposal is the narrative catalyst. When he calls the other members of the Flatbush Four to inform them that he’s getting married in Las Vegas, Sam and Archie instantly suggest a last-minute bachelor party. Billy proves easy to convince; Paddy, however, still resentful toward Billy for having missed Sophie’s funeral a year earlier, wants nothing to do with the hotshot Malibu lawyer. But Sam and Archie, both in dire need of an escape-from-the-family vacation, manage to string Paddy along to Vegas with a few white lies. From there, Last Vegas turns into a rediscovering-their-youth journey that almost everyone who sees it will describe as a Hangover-style exercise for the elderly set. The first foreshadowing of raunchy activity arrives when Sam’s wife improbably gifts him with a going-away condom, effectively giving him permission to cheat on her while he’s in Vegas.
Lest the movie drive away viewers looking for a comedy with a wholesome angle, a sweet, genuine romantic interest is introduced in the form of Mary Steenburgen’s Diana, a lounge singer who spends her days crooning “Only You” to empty afternoon rooms—until, that is, our Flatbush Four enter the Vegas picture and give her an eager audience. She strikes up a rapport with the group right away, especially with the two feuding rivals: Billy, who immediately begins to doubt the validity of his pending marriage to his thirty-something fiancée; and Paddy, whose affection for Diana raises his vital signs for the first time since Sophie’s death. The real heart of the movie is this long-gestating hostility between Billy and Paddy, and while Fogelman doesn’t always handle it in the most graceful manner (some of the moments of climactic reveal are played too abruptly), he at least imbues the film with a coherent emotional through-line that compliments the uneven comedy.
The most digestible comedic touches in the film tend to also be the simplest—basic, relatable bickering between lifetime friends and self-deprecating indications of past-their-prime-ness. (At one point, all four buddies agree that Curtis Jackson was a member of the Jackson 5.) When the movie tries to be hip and shove its characters into loud, dance-party scenarios, the results are often uncomfortable and off-putting. In one scene (set to “Party Rock Anthem,” of course), LMFAO’s Redfoo hosts a bikini contest, and picks the Flatbush Four to act as the main judges. Watching these actors hold up “10” signs one after the other is awkward enough; by the time Redfoo is thrusting himself in De Niro’s face, the actor’s bemused expression reads less as “Hey, this is a riot!” and more as “Are we finished with this scene, yet?” And though Steenburgen’s lovely presence goes a long way toward covering up the consistent misogyny, the scenes of Kline’s married-man Sam hounding younger women just keeps getting more repellent.
As far as sitcom-cinema goes (and the movie does truly look terrible), you could probably do worse than this—probably because most sitcom-cinema casts don’t allow Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline to share the screen. That the actors’ enthusiasm for buffoonery is so contagious from the get-go is the film’s major lifeline. Without that to fall back on, the coarser aspects of Fogelman’s script—not to mention Turteltaub’s nondescript direction—would’ve likely soured the enterprise completely.
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Starring: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen
Release Date: Nov. 1, 2013