The city of Las Vegas has been a silent cast member of so many films it’s pretty much become a genre all its own. And just like the ebb and flow of the city itself, the gauntlet of tales attached to it range from jubilation and happiness to murder and despair, most of the time transpiring in the same film. Comedies have usually walked away a winner from “Sin City” as the adult playground creates naturally funny avenues that quickly connect with a large percentage of audiences. 2009’s “The Hangover” is the film in the forefront of most people’s minds when the subject of a Las Vegas movie is brought up today, and though it was merely a lighter version of a cult classic dark comedy titled “Very Bad Things” from 1998, the over-the-top laughter definitely set the bar for all other Vegas films in the comedy category. Some like “Bridesmaids” (2011) have even been able to copy and expand the framework from “The Hangover” to incorporate plots with more depth. However in the newly released “Last Vegas,” it seems the hard work of a finely-tuned script was discarded in favor of a reality show-esque experiment to test just how good a “Mount Rushmore” cast really is with nothing more than a vague blueprint for a plot and a mediocre script at their disposal.
Four childhood friends from Brooklyn all now approaching 70 years of age, decide to reunite for a bachelor party celebrating the groups last bachelor, Billy (Michael Douglas, “The In-Laws,” 2003 ), finally settling down and marrying a girl that is literally less than half his age. Even though Billy’s friends outwardly disapprove of this decision they each see it as an opportunity to jumpstart their lives that have become mostly stale and uneventful in their old age.
It doesn’t take very long for this “murderer’s row” of thespians to balance their chemistry equation, creating a convincing mirage that the quartet must have worked together on big-screen projects in the past. De Niro, Douglas, Freeman and Kline have seen it all, done it all and played it all. Each has extensive experience in just about every genre of film and is able to anchor material that is far less than the caliber of their abilities with and undeserved weight of importance simply due to their presence and stature alone.
Although even with said greatness, Kevin Kline (“In and Out,” 1997) is by far the proverbial clean-up hitter of the group in a comedy environment. Even though they all have great timing and are no strangers to satire, Kline separates himself as the one who is purposely funny, looking to pull the joke out of any given scenario. The other three mostly rely on eliciting laughter through juxtaposition to their dramatic prowess.
Michael Douglas will be remembered for many dramatic performances but the fact they he even agreed to play this part exhibits a vast amount of humility and modest ego. There’s no doubt that Billy is based on some of the more public and polarizing aspects of Douglas’ real life. Riding that line, Billy is able to deal with some of the personal matters that Douglas had and may still be struggling with as he advances in age.
Director Jon Turtletaub (“National Treasure,” 2004) optimizes the use of Las Vegas by not only showing the glitz and glamour of city, but also the more realistic tone when all the excitement settles, and exemplifies just how sad and lonely it can be at the same time. Writer Dan Fogelman (“Crazy, Stupid Love,” 2011, “Cars,” 2006) has spent most of his career writing screenplays for family oriented films which is actually much too transparent in the abundance of “touching” moments accompanied by background music that sounds like it was ripped from some kind of public domain Muzak soundtrack.
To its credit, “Last Vegas” doesn’t try to emulate “The Hangover” by placing its characters in impossible situations. Instead, Freeman, Douglas, De Niro and Kline were able to maintain their age while pushing their own boundaries, leading to some genuinely funny moments that seem more like the work of ad-libbing than strict script conduct. The film is never going to be mistaken for “MASH” (1970) or “Tootsie” (1982), but the message is very poignant, clear and elevated by the performances of these “high rollers,” struggling with their own mortality just like every other lost soul at the penny slots.