With Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen. Written by Dan Fogelman. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Rated PG-13 on appeal for sexual content and language. 105 minutes.
LAST VEGAS is being described as “The Hangover” for the AARP set––and there’s some truth to that––but the differences are just as important. Unlike the increasingly awful “Hangover” movies, “Last Vegas” features a talented cast, interesting characters, and a witty script. After the success of those British comedies featuring aging stars (like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) and similar action films (like “Red” and “The Expendables”), someone finally figured out there’s an audience for movies not simply for children and young adults.
The set-up is simple. Four Brooklyn kids become tight friends in the 1950s. Now, nearing 70, they meet in Las Vegas as one of their number––Billy (Michael Douglas)––prepares to finally settle down and get married. Of course, the woman (Bre Blair) is more than half his age (and he proposed to her at a funeral), but it’s time.
As one might expect, each of the friends has his own quirks. Archie (Morgan Freeman) has recovered from a mild stroke and now has to deal with a son (Michael Ealy) who treats him as a fragile object. Sam (Kevin Kline) is a bit of a clown, constantly making jokes about being old in Florida, and whose wife (Joanna Gleason) has given him permission to go a little crazy in Vegas. And then there’s Paddy (Robert De Niro), a depressed widower who is angry at Billy and doesn’t want to be there.
The secret of Dan Fogelman’s script is that he allows his four characters to act silly but they never lose their dignity. They’re trying to have a good time in world that considers them used up, even though they still have plenty of energy left. Sam may have had a hip and a knee replaced while feeling he’s sitting in Florida waiting to die, but when he’s left off at the airport he dances a little jig. He’s alive again… even if he needs his afternoon nap.
The difference between this and “The Hangover” couldn’t be plainer: instead of watching a bunch of guys make fools of themselves and getting deeper and deeper into trouble, we’re cheering on guys still willing to take risks and finding they sometimes pay off in unexpected ways. Early in the film they meet Diana (Mary Steenburgen), who has some miles on her herself. She challenges them, particularly Billy and Paddy, including a touching scene in what seems to be a junkyard for the signs of old Las Vegas hotels, like the Sands and the Aladdin. These characters may have long memories but they still have hopes for the future too, and that’s really what the film is about.
The casting is dead-on. Kline and Freeman are hilarious, and their timing is impeccable. Douglas and De Niro have characters who have to confront unpleasant truths about themselves, and they play it as two old friends who have been fighting and sticking up for each other for years. Indeed, with his performance here and in the recent “The Family,” one has to wonder if De Niro is suddenly taking an interest in acting again after more than a decade of largely phoning it in. That would be good news indeed.
“Last Vegas” may be the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, but so what? Your parents (or grandparents) are entitled to some fun too.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.