Star power counts for a helluva lot in Last Vegas, an amiable geezers comedy with an affecting emotional anchor. To call this the geriatric Hangover is both accurate and misleading, as the main fun here is not so much the broad humor as it is to watch five great old pros — Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and an entirely captivating Mary Steenburgen — imparting pleasure while obviously having it themselves. Although formulaic in design and programmed to meet its quota of laughs, the film makes a point of going beyond basic expectations into some legitimate aspects of mature friendships without getting soggy about it. CBS Films looks to make this visit to Vegas a profitable one.
All wearing their years quite well, thank you — Freeman is the oldest at 76, Kline the youngest at 66, while De Niro is 70 and Douglas 69 — the actors play friends who have known one another for nearly six decades, as glimpsed in a Brooklyn childhood prologue. Nowadays, Archie (Freeman) is a veteran of one stroke whose obsessively protective son holds him health hostage in his New Jersey home, Sam (Kline) is bored in early Florida retirement with his longtime spouse and Paddy (De Niro) no longer leaves his New York apartment after his beloved wife’s death.
By extreme contrast, ladies’ man and successful Malibu attorney Billy (Douglas) willfully ignores the calendar but finally decides it’s time to settle down — with a bride about a third his age. Despite reluctance on the part of Paddy, who says he hates Billy, the guys agree to meet in Vegas for a bachelor party on the Saturday night before Billy’s Sunday wedding.
Screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) delivers the requisite amount of old-age shtick (Sam’s wife thoughtfully slips him an envelope containing a Viagra pill and a condom in the hope that some action will revitalize her husband) but quickly takes the story in a refreshingly unexpected direction with Diana (Steenburgen), a wise and sassy lounge singer who’s very frank about her availability as well as the hope that Vegas will provide her with a satisfying next act to her life. Her singing style is wonderful. She teases and engages with the guys and develops a quick rapport with both Paddy and Billy that inadvertently revives the secret grudge that drove a wedge between them.
For his part, Sam attracts the attention of a drag queen (Roger Bart), while Archie’s big winnings at blackjack occasion an upgrade into the hotel’s most lavish suite, available now that 50 Cent has canceled for the weekend. Events naturally conspire for the boys to use the enormous space to throw a wild party, in the course of which Archie shows off some smooth dance moves, Sam is forced to decide whether or not to use his wife’s presents, and 50 Cent, in a cameo, shows up after all to demand that the music be turned down.
Director Jon Turteltaub‘s signal accomplishment here is to have created a congenial environment in which the actors could bond and have fun within proper boundaries. The foursome’s approach to these uncomplicated characters is at once relaxed and alert, loose and quick on their toes; they’re just darn good company for a couple of hours, both when they’re rejecting the usual expectations to act their age but especially when they’re working through emotional issues for which even decades of experience provide inadequate preparation.
In every instance, the long-buried feelings that fire the dynamics of the men’s character arcs cut rewardingly across the ‘sitcommy’ ways the guys are initially presented. Cranky stay-at-home Paddy evolves into a man afflicted with profound romantic angst; Archie’s life-loving bonhomie asserts itself once he escapes his son’s overbearing surveillance; Sam reverses course from premature calcification to libidinous reawakening, while Billy risks renewed conflict with Paddy to at long last look beyond a woman’s surface charms and probe the potential of a mature romantic relationship. These may be obvious trajectories, but they serve to invest a farcical context with plausible facsimiles of real people.
The actors are all great to watch. It may be that Freeman’s work stands out simply because, since he’s now most often cast in solemn, grave, not to say God-like roles, he hasn’t cut loose like this in a long time; like his character, he should do it more often. At first it seems that Douglas as an L.A. playboy is just too obvious, but the sensitivity and soul that Diana ushers to the surface as Billy spends more time with her elicits many grace notes from the actor. While Kline’s role could have benefited from more meat in the script, his impeccable timing makes you pine for more mature seriocomic roles for this acting wizard. De Niro morphs his stubborn Archie Bunker-like complainer into a hurt man with a couple of exceptional grievances.
And then there’s Steenburgen’s Diana. Her musical gifts draw you in first but her self-deprecating humor, wisdom of the ways of the world and fundamental optimism make her a keeper and deserving of heated competition among men. In her best film role in years, the actress delivers a fully realized character from the outset and deepens it into someone you really care about even in an essentially comic context.
Opens: Nov. 1 (CBS Films)
Production: Laurence Mark Productions
Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Jerry Ferrara, Romany Malco, Roger Bart
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenwriter: Dan Fogelman
Producers: Laurence Mark, Amy Baer
Executive producers: Nathan Kahane, Jeremiah Samuels, Lawrence Grey
Director of photography: David Hennings
Production designer: David J. Bomba
Costume designer: Dayna Pink
Editor: David Rennie
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
PG-13 rating, 104 minutes