Last Vegas is hardly the finest work to ever come from the ensemble cast it features, and thankfully, it doesn’t aspire to be. Instead, it aims at delivering a whole lot of charm and fun via a lot of jokes about being old in a city made for the young, and thanks to that veteran cast of screen legends, it for the most part succeeds.
Fifty-eight years after they ruled their childhood stomping grounds in Brooklyn, the once-invincible “Flatbush Four” — Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert DeNiro), Archie (Morgan Freeman), and Sam (Kevin Kline) — find themselves brought back together by Billy’s announcement that he’s getting married … for the first time. Archie and Sam greet the news with shock and skepticism not only because Billy’s been the group’s sworn bachelor for half a century, but also because the bride-to-be is young enough to be one of their daughters.
As doubting as they are, the two also realize that since the impromptu wedding will take place in Vegas, a reunion weekend and a bachelor party are absolute necessities in order to give Billy a proper sendoff into married life. Billy protests, but not very strongly, and so the plan begins to come together … except for how exactly Sam gets away from married-and-retired life in Florida, Archie escapes from the care of his overprotective son, or how they convice Paddy to spend even a second around Billy, with whom there are long-standing, unresolved “issues.”
And that’s, more or less, where the fun begins.
With the help of a clever script by screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love) and veteran director Jon Turteltaub (While You Were Sleeping, National Treasure), Douglas, DeNiro, Freeman, and Kline play Last Vegas like a brand new Rat Pack, as though they’ve been playing opposite one another for years. The easy camaraderie, the banter, the cajoling, and the difficulty of talking through old grievances and re-opening old wounds all feels instantly genuine from the moment the actors all share the screen together. They, along with Mary Steenburgen, form an irresistibly charming bunch that’s sure to have audiences thinking about their own “packs”, the friends and people in their lives with whom old habits re-emerge and running jokes get revisited, the ones you can call up after five years and talk to as though it was five days ago. It’s the examination of those bonds of friendship, the strength of them and the challenges that time and circumstances can present them with, that make up the heart of this film, and are as much a part of its appeal as the cast and the laughs.
And there are plenty of laughs. Last Vegas is also very much a “fish out of water” comedy, in the sense that these four old-timers hit Vegas for that one last hurrah with an idea of what they’re in for from back in the good old days, and what they find in the desert isn’t at all what they remember. Bottle service in the clubs, thrill rides high atop the hotels, Cirque de Soleil performers and names like 50-Cent and Redfoo now rule the Strip, along with the faces and bodies of very young and beautiful women, and how the Flatbush Four take on that new and strange landscape while overcoming the so-called limits of age and common sense make for plenty of memorably funny moments.
As for individual performances, it’s a mixed bag. The script gives everyone something to do, but Douglas and DeNiro get the lion’s share of screen time, as the tension between Billy and Paddy, and the women who’ve ended up coming between them, makes up the dramatic portion of film. Freeman and Kline primarily handle comic relief roles and end up virtually stealing the show, as Archie and Sam aren’t dealing with baggage and are just out to make the most of their weekend reprieves from their regular lives in different ways.
DeNiro’s well-worn grumpy guy schtick gets a little tiresome after a while, but If anyone’s at all difficult to watch on-screen here, it’s Douglas. The ridiculous fake tan (his skin tone resembles that of Chinese take-out Orange Chicken), the Just For Men hair color, and the blinding white teeth veneers all call attention to themselves, but they’re also all excusable because they’re as much a part of Billy’s wardrobe as his slick tailored suits and vibrant colored button-downs. Billy’s all about somehow charming his way into staying young any way he can, from his appearance to his thirty-something live-in girlfriend, and Douglas wears it all as though he’s drawing from personal experience, as though that driving force to hold on to youth is something he’s familiar with off-screen. Viewers may chuckle a bit watching him from scene to scene, but no doubt they’ll recognize the motive behind Billy’s, and to a lesser extent all the Flatbush Four’s, efforts to feel young again in someone they know from real life or even in themselves, and that just adds to the charm of a very smart and enjoyable film.
Score: 3 out of 5
Starring Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Mary Steenburgen. Directed by Jon Turteltaub.
Running Time: 105 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.