Last Vegas will be inevitably branded as the geriatric version of The Hangover, as it’s set in Las Vegas and features a cast of males who head to Sin City to drink and party. But rather than R-rated debauchery and immoral shenanigans, this party is intended more for the older demographic, with milder content and non-offensive humour. The picture was written by Dan Fogelman, who cut his teeth on several Disney animated films (Tangled, Bolt, and Cars) before penning the superlative romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. in 2011. Fortunately, the strengths of Crazy, Stupid, Love. are carried over to Last Vegas, with touching story dramatics and plenty of big belly-laughs, not to mention the characters at the centre of the tale feel remarkably real and lived-in. The big draw of the movie, of course, is the presence of Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, who keep the movie consistently watchable with their limitless on-screen charisma.
As children, Billy (Douglas), Paddy (De Niro), Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kline) were known as the Flatbush Four, sharing a special friendship and keeping in touch over the decades. Now in their late 60s, the four men have grown apart and are in various stages of disrepair. After Billy proposes to his 31-year-old girlfriend Lisa (Bre Blair) with plans to marry in Las Vegas in a matter of days, Archie and Sam push for a Sin City bachelor party, refusing to take no for an answer. Paddy also tags along, though there’s awkwardness between himself and Billy due to personal reasons. Before long, the foursome are drinking and gambling, and soon meet a lovely lounge singer named Diana (Mary Steenburgen) who attracts the attention of Billy and Paddy in particular. As the weekend kicks into high gear, the old-timers begin to bond amid the booze-fuelled antics, while Billy is also compelled to re-assess his romantic needs.
Last Vegas dredges up the proverbial story clichés that we expect to see in this sort of production, but the movie miraculously manages to circumvent the most hoary chestnuts in a satisfying way. For instance, the pessimistic douche(™) begins giving the old guys a hard time, but he’s soon put in his place by the troupe, who mess with him in hilarious ways to make him change his tune. Furthermore, Archie’s unexpected luck at the casino results not in him being accused of cheating, but rather being offered the most expensive luxuries at a Vegas hotel. Last Vegas is great fun when locked in party mode, with Fogelman’s script making just about every possible joke about old age. It will probably play better for older members of the audience who’ll laugh at the universal truths about the aging process that are brought out, but it’s a fun sit for just about anyone. The movie is saucy too, with sexual gags all over the place, and the PG-13 rating thankfully does not hinder the humour’s sharpness. In fact, I never even realised it was PG-13, which is a massive compliment to everyone involved.
Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) is a reliable purveyor of big-screen entertainment, and he’s in fine form here, making the most of the meagre $28 million budget at his disposal. This is a slick comedy with attractive Vegas locales, and it’s for the most part paced very agreeably. Suffice it to say, Last Vegas does have its more dramatic movements – Billy and Paddy’s relationship is rocky, and the tensions between the two men only become more pronounced with Diana’s arrival on the scene. But against all odds, this aspect of the story is handled with genuine poignancy, leading to a moving rumination on what matters in life, and the values of love in one’s autumnal years. Above all else, we get the sense that these two men do care about each other deep down inside, bestowing the story with real heart and warmth. Drama comes off as perfunctory in most comedies, but it’s an organic part of the story here.
You simply cannot miss with a cast like this. Douglas, Kline, Freeman and De Niro are wonderful thespians on their own, but together they positively light up the screen with energy, exhibiting effortless chemistry and camaraderie, and playing off one another with superb precision. It’s truly a treat to see these old dogs sharing the frame, each of whom are given their individual moments to shine. They’re perfectly complemented by Steenburgen as well, who’s an utter delight. Freeman is especially warm here, and there are a handful of touching moments in which he shows us yet again just how good he is (a late scene with Michael Ealy as Archie’s son is very moving indeed). Kline is also as great as ever, flexing his wonderful comedic muscles that have not faded over the years. Douglas and De Niro are just as strong, with De Niro clearly enjoying himself while Douglas has an engaging on-screen presence. On a less positive note, the scenes with the protagonists as kids are a bit on the stiff side. The young boys are dead ringers for their older counterparts, but they’re flat actors.
To be sure, Last Vegas is not exactly revolutionary from a storytelling perspective, and a few more jokes would not have gone astray in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, this is a sweet and often funny movie which is far better than its “Hangover for old people” label implies. It’s witty, pleasant, crowd-pleasing comedy entertainment geared more towards the mature demographic, which is a satisfying change of pace in today’s cinematic climate. You’ll laugh, you might cry, and you’ll be left with a big smile on your face. Who can complain about that?