D: Jon Turteltaub / 105m
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Jerry Ferrara, Romany Malco, Roger Bart, Joanna Gleason, Michael Ealy, Bre Blair, April Billingsley
Four friends – Billy (Douglas), Paddy (De Niro), Archie (Freeman), and Sam (Kline) – are reunited when Billy is set to get married in Las Vegas. For three of them it’s a chance to escape from the mundanity of their lives and live a little. Paddy is still mourning the death of his wife after a year; Archie is living with his son, yet being treated as if he’s too fragile to be trusted even to look after his granddaughter; and Sam is dying a slow death from boredom in a retirement community in Florida. Meanwhile, Billy is marrying 32-year-old Lisa (Blair), and while he’s outwardly happy, it becomes clear he’s not as committed to the idea as his friends might have expected. Friends since childhood, the four come together despite Paddy’s animosity towards Billy for not attending his wife’s funeral, and declare they’r going to party “like it’s 1959”. With a burgeoning romance developing between Billy and lounge singer Diana (Steenburgen) that threatens to undermine his marriage plans, as well as his friendship with equally smitten Paddy, it’s up to Archie and Sam to keep things on track, and ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible…if they can.
As close to a vanity project as you’re likely to get these days, Last Vegas plays like a fever dream for the geriatric community. With none of its star quartet below the age of sixty-five, seeing them behave as if they were still teenagers is alternately disquieting and off-putting. Douglas is the lonely Lothario, afraid of getting old and losing out on love and companionship altogether. De Niro is the devoted husband bereft at losing his wife and retreating from life. Freeman is the supposedly frail grandfather who whose life is governed by his ill health (not that he displays any of this in the movie). And Kline is the bored retirement dweller who feels his life and any excitement is behind him. Frankly, if I was the same age as these guys and I felt they were supposed to represent my age group, I’d want to punch their lights out.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel young again when you reach a certain age and the things you took for granted have become the things you have to think about before you do them. But here, all the initial complaints about getting old are soon left behind once everyone’s in Las Vegas, and they can start to “party like it’s 1959”. Archie busts some serious moves on the dance floor, Sam nearly gets to use the condom his wife has given him (so he can get over his “depression”), Paddy realises his wife wouldn’t want him to hole up in their apartment for the rest of his life, and Billy finds true love with Diana having come to terms – quickly – with his loneliness. Tonally, Last Vegas is one of those “have your cake and eat it” movies where it’ll all come right if you remain true to yourself, and don’t lose sight of who you are. It’s a wish fulfilment movie with no sense of irony or its own absurd premise.
It’s a good job then that the movie delivers on the laughter front. There are some belly laughs to be had, mostly related to Freeman, and the movie has a good time making its characters look foolish before it makes them out to be super-cool. The script by Dan Fogelman does its best to wring laughs out of the situations the four friends find themselves in, rather than completely at their expense, while most of the supporting characters are there mainly to show how ageist we are as a society, and to be humiliated (see Dean, played by Ferrara).
Of the four leads, it’s Freeman and Kline who come off best but that’s because they’ve got slightly more to work with (and Kline can do this sort of thing in his sleep). Douglas looks uncomfortable, as if he really would like to be marrying a 32-year-old, while De Niro is just uncomfortable to watch. Despite the number of comedies he’s made in the last twenty years, De Niro still fumbles the ball when it comes to humour. Here he looks like the guy who not only doesn’t get the joke, but isn’t even aware that a joke’s been told (it doesn’t help that Paddy has to remain angry with Billy for most of the movie). Steenburgen does well as the singer with a heart of gold, but isn’t given much to do other than listen to the travails of the four friends, or warble a couple of songs. Of the rest of the cast, only Malco stands out, as the organiser of Billy’s stag party.
The movie is adequately directed by Turteltaub, and there’s fun to be had from seeing a slightly different side of Las Vegas than the one normally seen, but without the committed performances of its leads, and the better-than-expected humour in the script, Last Vegas would be a waste of time and effort. That it partially succeeds is therefore a surprise, and a pleasant one at that.
Rating: 7/10 – worth seeing for Freeman and Kline alone, and the rare sight of De Niro having a DJ’s crotch thrust at his face repeatedly, Last Vegas works a lot better than you’d think; no awards winner, it’s true, but a pleasing diversion nevertheless.