By Carl Kozlowski
From the moment the new film Last Vegas was first announced, it seemed like it was trying to be The Hangover for AARP members. After all, the four old stars—Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline—individually unable to draw flies at the box office anymore—were being dropped into Sin City for a wild bachelor party weekend.
Such an obvious knock-off could have spelled trouble. The Hangover movies overstayed their welcome with two progressively worse sequels. And who wants to see four guys approaching 70 hitting on coeds and twenty-something women for two hours?
But Douglas has long protested such assumptions, insisting that Last Vegas is a much different movie than those raunchy predecessors. And he’s right, with his film delivering a fun romp that actually has some emotional resonance to go with its wild moments.
The movie kicks off in 1955, when the friends were 12 years old and calling themselves the “Flatbush Four,” chasing girls and engaging in neighborhood escapades. But in a hilarious switch, the movie cuts to the present day with a title card reading “58 Years Later” and shows that Sam (Kline) has been married 40 years and is already trapped in a retirement community with much older people, while Archie (Freeman) recently suffered a minor stroke that resulted in his overly concerned son keeping him on house arrest, and Paddy (DeNiro) has spent the past year wearing a bathrobe in his apartment and mourning the loss of his wife.
That leaves it up to Billy (Douglas) to be living the high life, shacked up with a 31-year-old girlfriend in a Malibu beach house until he’s forced to perform the eulogy at the funeral of a friend who was just two years older than himself. Feeling his mortality while up at the pulpit, Billy vows to live life to the fullest and proposes to his girlfriend right there at the service.
And so the four friends reunite in Vegas for Billy’s bachelor party weekend, with each of Billy’s buddies hoping to recapture some magic of their own while Billy suddenly gets cold feet. The reason for his reticence is a lounge singer (Mary Steenburgen) he stumbles upon and has an instant connection with, a connection that is age-appropriate and makes him realize that at 70 it may be time to grow up.
There are plenty of rowdy moments along the way. For instance, Sam is surprised to find his wife has given him an envelope containing a condom, a Viagra pill and a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” note, before setting out to use his free weekend pass. Archie is dying to gamble and drink, with funny results, and Paddy is desperate to break out of his depression.
One big reason this all works is the script by Dan Fogelman, whose wise, warm and witty work in 2011’s hit romantic comedy Crazy Stupid Love also dug deep, albeit exploring middle-aged marriage and life crises. Last Vegas isn’t quite as good as Crazy, mainly because Vegas’ older characters dictate that the story take a breather at times with dialogue-heavy scenes that slow the pace a tad too much, and because the movie pulls its punches in a few moments in which younger characters might have gotten away with raunchier twists.
But while this movie should be fun for anyone, it’s also really aimed at older audiences, which probably appreciate a bit of restraint. Regardless, it’s refreshing to see these four movie stars work their magic in roles that let them have fun again after Douglas spent the past decade battling cancer, playing Liberace on HBO and starring in small-scaled mediocrities that barely registered on the public radar. As the ringleader of this fantastic foursome, he has a wicked charm that’s impressively contrasted by some truly emotional moments later in the film.
DeNiro, meanwhile, proves that his Oscar-nominated comeback in The Silver Linings Playbook was no fluke and invests energy and grace into his role, particularly in a poetic moment of shadowboxing after he knocks out a surly club kid. Freeman gets to shake off the staid, God-type roles he’s been shackled with for the past decade and have some fun, while Kline is a delight to watch after years in which he seemed to utterly disappear from movie theaters.
Steenburgen is also a lovely surprise, adding feminine charm to the comic testosterone. Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, Cool Runnings) shakes this comic cocktail expertly, delivering his own best crowd-pleaser in years and making a night out at the movies with these five acting pros a winning bet.