With “The Hangover” boys having seemingly exploited every debauchery laden avenue Las Vegas has to offer and then some, another party-happy movie set in the city might seem like a tired notion. Particularly when it’s combined with a premise as wheezy and obvious as this, getting four older men together for one last hurrah in the city where your sins remain secret. But somehow, “Last Vegas” is better than it has any right to be. Yes, it’s uneven, more jokes miss than hit, and it winds up taking easy dramatic shortcuts from the more interesting avenues that the script presents, but it’s thanks to the lead quartet that the comedy is as engaging at it is.
Know as the Flatbush Four in their youth, Billy, Paddy, Archie and Sam has been best friends closing in on six decades, but old age has found them losing the spunk that once energized them on the streets of Brooklyn. Archie (Morgan Freeman) now lives with his son (Michael Ealy), where he’s babied as much as his infant granddaughter and kept on a strict no salt, no alcohol, no fun routine. Meanwhile, Sam (Kevin Kline) is now living in Florida, moving around thanks to some new titanium parts and trying to stave off boredom. Of the quartet, it’s Billy (Michael Douglas) who’s the most successful, living large in California and now ready to marry his 32 year-old girlfriend. So a bachelor party is immediately assembled, but there will be one person who needs convincing: Paddy (Robert De Niro), who has become withdrawn following the death of his childhood sweetheart and wife and still holds a simmering grudge against Billy, that is kept as a dramatic Macguffin for most of the movie (though you’ll probably figure it out early on).
Anyway, all four make their way to Las Vegas and, for the most part, are ready to let their hair down. Archie and Sam are the pair clearly ready to enjoy 72 hours of freedom from their lives back home, and get right into the spirit of things by gambling and trying to pick up women, respectively. Billy is mostly happy to have his old gang back, but the unresolved bitterness coming his way from Paddy, simmers between them, ready to explode in the third act. In regards to structure and narrative, it’s all very conventional, but credit to director Jon Turteltaub, as he keeps things moving fast enough that isn’t much time for the movie to sag.
And that momentum is in no small part due to the four leads of the movie. Freeman and Kline in particular get some of the biggest laughs, with both actors clearly enjoying given a chance to play very loose and broad. The jokes are mostly on inserting the elderly gentlemen into situations where one wouldn’t usually find elderly gentlemen. But there are few folks around who can take gags that find them downing too many energy drink cocktails, or chatting up drag queens, and making it work far more than they should. Douglas and De Niro mostly coast though, the former on his good looks, the latter on his scowl, and while they provide the dramatic anchor for the movie, things slow when the focus is pulled their way.
Penned by Dan Fogelman, who landed on the map thanks to his (mostly) charming and sharp “Crazy Stupid Love” (another effort elevated by the cast), here the material is too uneven to sustain a consistent tone and too thin to hit the desired emotional notes. Even as it draws four fairly distinct portraits for the lead characters, they don’t get the texture in support they need. The always pleasant and talented Mary Steenburgen is mostly left adrift as an amateur jazz singer who becomes a love interest/plot device, while Jerry Ferrara, playing an asshole version of Turtle, is mostly the key part of a running gag that never quite works. As for Romany Malco, he deserves better than playing a concierge, who spends most of the film planning a party, rather than dropping quips (though he does get a few in).
But most disappointingly, Fogelman backs down from some of the more daring prospects in the script. A surprisingly sex-positive and mature thread finds Sam given permission by his wife—via a note with Viagara and a condom enclosed—to sow his oats in Las Vegas, if it means it’ll bring the spice back to their marriage. But it’s almost like you can feel predictable outrage of some corner of the internet, preemptively ensuring that the traditional ideals of what makes relationships work, is kept intact. While elsewhere, Fogelman doesn’t seem to know what to do when the eventual third act twist reveals a rather deep, emotional betrayal… that gets resolved within a few scenes, but never quite as convincingly as you might think the situation would require.
“Last Vegas” is forever ready to move onto to the next wacky adventure which is both to its advantage and detriment. On the plus side, the speed with which it moves means that even if there are a few jokes that miss in a row (and that’s most of the time), the one that does land is usually worth it. Clearly Fogelman’s script wants to deal with real issues of aging, loneliness and the value of deep, meaningful relationships, but those moments are rarely given the space and complexity to be fully felt. If anything, “Last Vegas” is best represented by giving us the indelible image of a member of LMFAO grinding his crotch in Robert De Niro’s face. Indeed, things that happen in Vegas, should stay in Vegas, and while you might have regrets later, in the moment, “Last Vegas” blurs by on a brief high, like a night fueled by Red Bull and vodka. Though moments after the credits roll, you’ll struggle to remember what just happened. [C+]