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Five Things to Know About Last Vegas

by Ethan Alter November 1, 2013 6:00 am
Five Things to Know About <i>Last Vegas</i>

What happens in Vegas usually stays in Vegas. But it would be irresponsible for us to let you take a bet on Last Vegas without any advanced warning. Here are five things to know about this old friends (really old friends)-hit-the-Strip comedy.

It's Not The Geriatric Hangover
Yes, the basic premise is similar, with four pals making the pilgrimage to the City of Sin to celebrate a bachelor party, where they promptly get up to all manner of mischief involving booze, scantily-clad women and a special celebrity cameo. But otherwise, the Flatbush Four -- as this Brooklyn-born crew calls themselves -- ain't no Wolf Pack, skipping the roofie-induced blackout phase of their weekend debauchery, as well as the subsequent scrambling to piece together their lost evening… not to mention the missing groom-to-be. The misadventures here are far more sedate, which is probably appropriate considering the advanced ages of the characters involved. When pushing-70 playboy Billy (Michael Douglas) informs his childhood pals that he's finally settling down (with a woman half his age, no less), desperate-to-cut-loose Sam (Kevin Kline) and recovering stroke victim Archie (Morgan Freeman) propose a Vegas blowout to send him off into wedded bliss. But first, they've got to convince grumpy old man Paddy (Robert De Niro) to join in, despite the animosity he holds towards one-time best friend Billy for a past slight involving his beloved and now-deceased wife. Descending on the Strip with a reluctant Paddy in tow, the Flatbush Four maneuver their way into a ritzy suite and heartily partake in such popular Vegas pastimes as clubbing, judging bikini contests and throwing wild hotel room parties. Through it all, though, they mostly remain the masters of their domain, rather than becoming the victims of increasingly crazy circumstances a la the Wolf Pack. Instead, what intrudes on their fun are the fault lines in their own lives and relationships, whether that's a feeling of being trapped in increasingly dull existences (as in the case of Sam and Archie) or the overdue acknowledgement of their own mortality (as with Billy). The Hangover is a lark, but Last Vegas has some real dramatic meat served alongside the comedy… not that it handles either all that well, to be honest.

De Niro is Actually Trying
Before digging into the movie's failings, let's acknowledge the elements that work, all of which are performance-based. Having been roused from his years-long slumber by spunky Jennifer Lawrence in last year's Silver Linings Playbook, De Niro is in fine form here, bringing a welcome playfulness to the role of the resentful widower, without diluting Paddy's legitimate grief. He also mixes it up with his co-stars instead of glowering in the corner, and that connection helps Douglas in particular, who is otherwise the weak link in the quartet. (He's not bad per se, but his lack of engagement in the proceedings is pretty obvious throughout. Maybe he was fighting the urge to break out his Liberace impression.) The conflict between these two plays a key role in the film's climax and it wouldn't be remotely effective without the quiet, confident way that De Niro builds to the big confrontation. It may be second-rate material, but the actor does a first-class job selling it.

Kline and Freeman are the Next Great Comedy Team
With Douglas and De Niro's relationship forming the dramatic spine of the film, the back-up members of the Flatbush Four are given the most freedom to cut loose and have fun. Granted, each man does have his own personal crisis to wrestle with; Sam, for example, has been granted a hall pass by his wife and spends much of the weekend looking for a young lady to welcome into his bed, while Archie has to prove to his buddies (plus his overprotective grown-up son back at home) that he's still capable of having a good time, stroke and all. But these subplots remain largely in the background, thus giving the duo more time to just goof around. I wish the movie had allowed Kline to be as superbly zany as he was in A Fish Called Wanda all those years ago (a role that won him an Oscar, don't forget), but even reined-in, he's a terrific comic performer and a reinvigorated Freeman seems genuinely delighted to spend so much time in his company. If Sandra Bullock really doesn't want to sequalize The Heat, I vote for a spin-off starring Kline and Freeman as another pair of odd-couple cops.

Mary Steenburgen is One Classy Dame
Handed the thankless role of the age-appropriate love interest -- a lounge singer named Diana whom all the guys are smitten with to varying degrees -- the eternally underappreciated Steenburgen manages to enliven every scene she appears in, reading the temperature of each of the Four and responding accordingly. Her emphasis on supporting the leading men, rather than showboating, makes it easy to overlook her contribution to the movie, but she's an equal co-star who, frankly, deserves a place on the poster alongside the old dudes.

It's an Extended Sitcom Pilot
Great actors can elevate weak material, but inevitably the limitations of said material are going to shine through. And that's what happens with Last Vegas as even the committed efforts of these veteran actors can't completely distract from the movie's reliance on hoary clichés and predictable jokes. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman lets no obvious senior citizen-related gag escape his sight, checking off such requisite targets as Viagra, aqua aerobics and early dinners/bedtimes. (I suppose I should be thankful that there aren't any old person fart jokes; those have all been saved for CBS's The Millers.) The maudlin way that the script dredges up the gang's old resentments and conflicts also mirrors conventional sitcom-writing, where dramatic overtones are introduced, but not dealt with any substantial way lest they bum the audience out. And as directed by Jon Turteltaub, Last Vegas takes place in a version of Vegas that feels as small and self-contained as any Studio City soundstage. I'm no fan of The Hangover franchise, but Todd Phillips at least made a point of treating the city as a character, sending the Wolf Pack into other areas beyond the familiar sites along the Strip. There's a tonal and visual flatness to the movie that the stars are forever striving to flesh out. It's a losing battle, but at least it's mildly entertaining to watch these old soldiers fight the good fight.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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