Last Vegas

What do you get when you combine four of the country’s better actors (and they each have at least one Oscar to prove it), a great actress (with an Oscar herself), the screenwriter of Crazy, Stupid, Love., and the director of mid-90s hits Phenomenon and While You Were Sleeping?

Well, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t expect a mostly bland/occasionally cute old-folks’-home version of Vegas Vacation.

But there it is.

Last Vegas hobbles (with a bad hip and a walker) into theaters this weekend, feeling quite a bit like a late summer throwaway flick. That being said, the performances of Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Mary Steenburgen, and (especially) Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline do keep Last Vegas from a future at the bottom of Walmart’s $5 DVD barrel.

The four fellas are lifelong friends who grew up together in Brooklyn. They’ve each gone their separate ways in the sixty years since, but they’re still buddies (at least enough to still hurl profane nicknames at each other). When Billy (Douglas) calls the gang to let him know he’s getting married (to a woman half his age) they all agree to come together for a last-minute bachelor party in Vegas— Sam (Kline), Archie (Freeman), and even Paddy (DeNiro), who had to be tricked into attending and still holds a grudge against his ol’ pal Billy.

Over the course of the next hour and a half (and it takes a while to get going) Dan Fogelman’s screenplay touches on every Sin City gag in the book, while at the same time hitting every AARP-centric joke, too—most of which you’ve heard many times before. Heck, most of them were old when Don Rickles used to tell them in the early 1970s at Dean Martin’s roasts.

Jon Turtletaub’s direction, too, is generally uninspired; he opts instead to go the go the safe route with a bland film that pretty much anyone could have helmed. Apparently he was content (and, as it turns out, wise) to just sit back and let his stars do all the heavy lifting. And thank heaven they do.

Douglas and DeNiro seem to be essentially playing themselves (or who we think they are, at least), and both hit it out of the park as the leads. DeNiro particularly shines as the grumpy old man of the bunch. It’s Kline and Freeman, though, in supporting roles, who are the real little blue pills here, giving Last Vegas its oomph. As Billy and Paddy spend most of the movie arguing about women and their storied history together, Sam and Archie go on a quest to get their party on. Freeman’s dance moves and Sam’s twittering, Woody Allen-esque personality steal the show.

Last Vegas does have funny moments (and some are actually laugh-out-loud), and it’s far more than just a Hangover re-tread; it’s markedly better, in fact, than most of that franchise. The senior circuit will get a kick out of it especially, but there’s enough here for younger crowds, too.

If nothing else, it’s a welcome chance to see some of the best at their craft rescue what should have been nothing more than a halfway-decent movie… and make it actually watchable.

3/5 stars