It seems like an odd occasion for a movie comedy: Members of the post- WWII Baby Boom generation are aging. As we reach our sixties and, gulp, seventies, we recall our pasts and confront our mortality.
That’s pretty much the idea that inspired the new film “Last Vegas,” though peeks at the receipts of the “Expendables” movies and the “RED” ones must have had an influence.
Why not take some of the aging stars that boomers have liked and put them in a movie about our generation going out with a bang? Or nearly a bang. A geriatric “Hangover.” Set it in Sin City. That way there will be round beds in hotel suites for the stars to take naps in, between commercially-produced parties.
This is exactly what the makers of “Last Vegas” have wrought. Director Jon Turtletaub, who has given us the “National Treasure” movies, and journeyman screenplay writer Daniel Fogelman have collaborated with Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and, more surprisingly, Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen to give us a good-natured movie about the party before the wake.
Here’s the utterly Hollywood concept: Billy (Douglas), Paddy (DeNiro), Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kline) grew up together in Brooklyn and have always kept in touch. Paddy’s recently deceased wife also dated Billy, who later moved to California and made some money.
Each guy has a little character key. Billy has asked his thirty-one year-old girlfriend to marry him. Paddy hasn’t left his apartment much since his wife died. Archie and Sam are mostly in the movie for balance—Freeman is the minority race member and Kline is the comic relief.
Archie has had a small stroke that freaked out his son (Michael Ealy) with whom he lives. The son’s ring tone on Archie’s phone is Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Sam feels that everyone around him (in retirement Florida) is aging lots faster than is he. So when Billy calls to invite them to the wedding, Archie has to sneak out of the house. And Sam’s understanding wife sends him off with a Viagra pill and a prophylactic, giving him permission to have a wild weekend.
Some ill-feeling between Billy and Paddy also figures as the old gang gets together and looks around the gambling town. All four of the men are attracted by an otherwise generally unpopular lounge singer, Diana (Steenburgen), who spends one-on-one time with both DeNiro’s character and Douglas’s. Archie has some wonderful luck at an Aria hotel blackjack table, which causes the management to offer the boys a big suite.
With the suite they get a hotel host. They overawe a young bully who becomes an odd sort of servant for them. They go to an over-the-top nightclub (with go-go girls) and to a hotel swimming pool (which allows the cameras to show off the fruits of much plastic surgery). Then the boys host an over-the-top party (with go-go girls).
Eventually they are going to get around to resolving the story’s problem—that Billy is making a mistake marrying a woman nearly forty years younger than he is. And they’ll get around to sampling the bottle of Scotch we saw them swipe in an early flashback to their childhood.
But the plot is never the concern here. Most of the folks who attend “Last Vegas” will go because they assume it will be funny. Sometimes it is. Sometimes not.
The film wants to get laughs by having old people use profanity and vulgarity. This isn’t funny. Some of the details of Vegas tastelessness—an ice sculpture of a female torso, hollowed out and with the nipples acting as fountain jets—are kind of jolting. But maybe that isn’t really comedy.
As is usually the case, it’s the film’s occasional witticisms and the delivery of its talented cast that make the movie funny when it is funny. Kline is a long-time favorite of mine, and I got a laugh when he spoke in greeting to the three bridesmaids: “Madison, Taylor, Madison.” “Where did you get the extra hair?” seemed to me to be a funny line, though the script can’t leave it at that.
The screenplay, it turns out, wants to include too much that isn’t funny, that is vaguely sentimental or vaguely adventurous. This keeps “Last Vegas” from being an Adam Sandler movie. But it also suggests its stars are too old to just be wits. Imagine what that suggests about the film’s audience.