Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In Theaters: LAST VEGAS (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Jon Turtletaub.  Written by Dan Fogelman.  Cast: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen, Romany Malco, Jerry Ferrara, Joanna Gleason, Roger Bart, Michael Ealy, Bre Blair, April Billingsley.  (PG-13, 105 mins)

LAST VEGAS makes it pretty easy to just think of it as GRUMPY OLD HANGOVER and doesn't try much harder than it needs to, but if you approach it as nothing more than harmless entertainment, you might find yourself laughing quite a bit. Old people being raunchy or doing youthful things are formulas that are always fodder for cheap laughs, but with five Oscar-winners on board, the film can coast on their history and screen presence alone.  There's also occasional bits of heart and poignancy amidst the easy and predictable old age jokes.  Wisely keeping it at a PG-13 considering that the target audience really isn't into grossout humor, LAST VEGAS accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do:  great actors we've known for decades working together for the first time and clearly enjoying themselves.  Sure, it's nobody's best movie, but it's hard to dislike.

Four best friends of 60 years are reunited for a Vegas bachelor party when one--wealthy, over-tanned bachelor Billy (Michael Douglas) is marrying a woman nearly 40 years younger.  Twice-divorced Archie (Morgan Freeman) is recovering from a stroke and living with his overprotective son (Michael Ealy).  Sam (Kevin Kline) has had a knee and hip replacement and is bored with Florida retirement.  Paddy (Robert De Niro) lost his wife to cancer a year earlier, spends his days in his bathrobe watching TV, and is still angry with Billy for not being able to make the funeral.  Once together, old resentments between Billy and Paddy expectedly resurface, especially considering that Paddy's late wife was in love with both of them 40 years earlier and chose Paddy.  Things hit a bump in the road when the guys meet a lounge singer (Mary Steenburgen), whose bright presence brings Paddy out of his shell but also has Billy questioning whether marrying someone so young is a good idea.

The emotional core of LAST VEGAS is the rocky relationship between Billy and Paddy, with Archie and Sam providing much of the sillier comedy.  Kline's Sam, in particular, gets some of the best bits and a lot of his one-liners feel improvised by the actor ("A blowjob's not out of the question!").  Given a condom and permission by his wife (Joanna Gleason) to cheat if it brings some spark back into his life (they say age is just a number, and 66-year-old Kline and 63-year-old Gleason both seem too spry and energetic to be living in a retirement community where everyone looks 90), the mild-mannered Sam basically tells every attractive young woman in sight that he's available.  Freeman's Archie just wants to live it up, gambling, dancing, guzzling vodka & Red Bull and just enjoying being away from his loving but sheltering son (one of the film's more amusing jokes is Archie's phone playing Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" as the ringtone when his son calls).  There's very little here that you don't expect, and director Jon Turtletaub and writer Dan Fogelman (CARS, THE GUILT TRIP) take some easy shots like Viagra jokes, Sam not being able to figure out how to pop the trunk on a rental car, old people eating dinner at 4:00 pm, LMFAO's Redfoo shaking his junk in Paddy's face, the guys briefly pretending to be mobsters (because that's apparently a requirement for any De Niro comedy), with retired accountant Sam saying "They call me Sammy the Stove...cuz I cook da books!" or Sam taking off his glasses in a bar so he'll appear younger, only to end up hitting on a drag queen (Roger Bart), but there's also some genuine emotion at times.  Douglas (now at the same age as dad Kirk when he was in a Red Hot Chili Peppers mosh pit in 1986's TOUGH GUYS) has a great scene where he says his 40-year-old brain can't process that his body is 70 and the ride is winding down, and it's quite effective considering his recent health issues.  And it does a nice job of capturing the rhythms and the shorthand conversation of lifelong friends with typical elderly health problems (Billy, calling Archie on the phone: "Archie, it's Billy!"  Archie: "Oh God...is it your prostate?").  It's also hard to dislike any movie with a self-deprecating cameo by 50 Cent, turning in his finest film work yet playing himself, knocking on the door of the guys' penthouse suite and asking them to turn the music down.

Sure, like THE BUCKET LIST, another geriatric-aimed comedy from the recent past, LAST VEGAS is slight and relies completely on its stars, but they're too good for it to not work.  Douglas, De Niro, Freeman, Kline, and Steenburgen have a welcome familiarity to each of them that makes the film go down like comfort food.  Yeah, it's easy for jaded cineastes to lament that De Niro's been phoning it in for a while but, like his co-stars, he's obviously having some fun here.  For fans who have grown old along with these actors for the last 30-40 years (though Freeman and Kline didn't come to prominence until the '80s), it's nice to see them still getting it done and not having lost a bit of their star power.  Is it WALL STREET, TAXI DRIVER, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, or A FISH CALLED WANDA?  Of course not, but it doesn't have to be.  What it does is respect its actors and their legacies enough to not ask them to embarrass themselves, which was a very definite possibility. Cinesnobs need to check the cynicism at the door with this one.  It is what it is--it's pretty consistently funny and it gives its intended audience what they came to see.

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