Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Starring Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Jerry Ferrara, Romany Malco
A kind of Expendables for Viagra-popping retirees, Last Vegas throws Hollywood golden boys Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Kline at the screen amongst a scourge of dilapidated “We’re old now” jokes. But instead of slipping in old catchphrases and nods to their former glory, the narrative hones in on a periodic nostalgia existing outside of the collective careers of these (re)tired bunch of 70-odds.
Arguably better than it has any right to be, Last Vegas dodges expectations of “phoning it in”with half-heartfelt performances from these behemoths of the silver screen. But try as hard as Douglas and crew do to make something with surface-level sincerity, cheese-ball direction from Jon Turteltaub preaches to the lowest common denominator of moviegoers as the ill-conceived script from Dan Fogelman begs for laughs like a dog for scraps. Like a spritz of water to your furry friend’s face or aged bowels spontaneously releasing themselves, it’s often embarrassing to behold.
Dressing death up as a catalyst for living while you can, we meet Douglas’s Billy – a man with the orange-tinted tan of an Oompa Loompa – at his business partner and close friend’s funeral where, in the heat of the moment, he proposes to his 30-something girlfriend – a woman far too young to be marrying him for anything other than the inevitable life insurance payout. However much you expect this generation-gap relationship to be a goldmine for gravedigger jokes, this comedy-rich quarry isn’t touched with a ten-foot pole. It’s as if the producers all glanced at their own wives and nixed all wily commentary on marrying young. Instead, the movie uses this marriage-to-be as a window into the psychology of an older man trying to escape into his more formidable years. What follows is not unlike a plausible synopsis for American Reunion: We’re Retired Now.
Life long friends Archie (Freeman), Sam (Kline), and the ever-reluctant Paddy (De Niro) join Billy for one last stint in Vegas as a formal send off to the man about to seal his fate in his first marriage. It’s strange to think that these four performers have never shared the screen before as they actually have an ample amount of chemistry together, even though their relationships are built on a thin foundation of lazy writing.
Along the way to the alter, Paddy and Billy feud over past betrayals. A growing rift in their friendship, begat by Billy skipping out on Paddy’s wife’s funeral, promises to tear up the group before the “I do’s” have a chance to be spoken. They bicker like old crows until Diana (Mary Steenburgen) – a lounge singer who becomes the recipient of both of their affections – takes the stage and their hostility turns to competition.
As it turns out, their tug-of-war over the same woman is par for the course of their friendship, as both had eyes for the same sweetheart back in their youthful days, a malted milkshake lass named Sophie. Sophie is the same woman that Paddy eventually married, the same woman whose funeral Billy stood up. In a revamped version of Sophie’s choice, her decision to saddle up with Paddy has always left an unspoken dent in their friendship. Just as these more meaningful ideas of love and friendship begin to be explored, they’re quickly abandoned. Anything worthy of thoughtful consideration is ultimately left examined with the finesse of a kid with a magnifying glass toasting ants. In such, nothing genuine survives the scorching melodrama of Turteltaub’s touch.
Much like a granny that confuses a nickel for something of actual worth, Turteltaub fails to understand Last Vegas‘s value. Rather than treat his audience to a pat on the head, he could have left us with something weighty, or at least a lump in our throats – something worthy of dealing with friendships that end in funerals. But his fundamental misunderstanding of the film’s purpose quickly becomes his own downfall. Crafting a story around the framework of coping with age has proved successful in the past – just take a look at the resounding success of last year’s admittedly grim Amour. The success of that film, like this one, depends on a sense of stakes and what higher stakes are there than dying slowly, alone and isolated?
In Last Vegas though, these ideas are mentioned but never actually experience. Consequently, there are no solid ramifications for anything that takes place. It’s all just an act in front of a curtain. Every issue becomes a performance of reaction, a cookie-cutter replica of tropes of past aging journeys. As it goes, everything feels like a carbon copy of a copy of a copy – three layers removed from any real feeling.
But judging Last Vegas on the terms of a serious drama isn’t quite grading it on a fair rubric because it was never intended to be a serious drama. Through and through, this is a fluffy star-laden romp intended to steal laughs rather than tears. Never masquerading as something of deeper intent, Last Vegas is happy to churn along and snag a smile here and there. Still, giving it a pass for having low ambition is an equally miscalculated way to sum up the film.
Regardless of its intention, any film with staying power hopes to tap into something universal; a reaction typically gleamed from a true emotional response. But with Last Vegas, any real emotional response is second-tier to sigh-inducing knee-slappers.
Following suit, Last Vegas is fast food entertainment for the elderly. Lacking anything of substance, this is an easily digestible stencil of a comedy that flushes right through your system, causing little more than a fading smile, all the while making you a little worse for the wear. The host of talent may look pretty being passed through the filter of a camera lens and crammed into a trailer’s two minute time frame but once Last Vegas has trudged through its entire arsenal of hardy hars, you’re unlikely to remember anything about the experience and would surely flush it out of your mind to make room for something better.
But Last Vegas‘s greatest crime comes with its relentless pursuit to pitch to a younger crowd, the most egregious of which involves mixing a wiener-shaking AWOL Nation gag amongst a torrent of ED jokes. Even though the film clearly skews towards the majorly slim 70-plus demographic, disingenuous attempts to win laughs from the younger crowd come across as misguided. The two generations irreparably clash, stripping the film down to its uninspired core and revealing the mess underneath. Like getting a pair of socks for Christmas, it’s not really a gift at all.