Movie Review: ‘Last Vegas’ a joyride for actors and audience

Michael Douglas. Robert De Niro. Morgan Freeman. Kevin Kline.

What more is there to be said?

Not much, because the cast of “Last Vegas” – an ultimately innocent, sentimental comedy about embracing old age with a little help from your lifelong friends – is the reason to see it.

The film is a breezy venue more for star power than cathartic storytelling, which isn’t really a problem since enough laughs are provided to hold your attention, thanks to witty, sometimes inappropriate dialogue that is all the more potent coming from characters struggling with their own impotency, in every sense of the word.

The plot concerns Billy (Douglas), Paddy (De Niro), Archie (Freeman), and Sam (Kline), four old friends whose unsatisfying home lives are put on hold for a few days as they reunite in Las Vegas to throw Billy a bachelor party.

Billy, the most successful of the bunch, proposes to his 31-year-old girlfriend while he’s giving a eulogy. The scene itself doesn’t work very well, but when it’s re-told later over a phone call between Billy, Archie, and Sam, the comedic payoff is worth the time it takes to get there.

Paddy is noticeably absent from this phone call. That’s because of some lingering tension between him and Billy, who didn’t attend the funeral of Paddy’s wife, Sophie, one year prior. Since then, Paddy’s been a bathrobe-donning curmudgeon, holed up in his apartment in a self-imposed exile from the rest of the world. His only company are the pictures of his dead wife with which he’s filled the apartment.

When Archie and Sam show up at Paddy’s place unannounced to take him to Vegas for a few days of fun, he is predictably reluctant to go, despite the fact that, at this point, he doesn’t know the real reason behind the trip. But he soon finds out when the plane lands and Billy meets the group at the airport, quickly bringing all their unresolved issues to the surface.

Soon, the resentments are defused and the merrymaking begins, and the film is better for it, especially during a scene when the men find themselves as judges at a bikini contest, giving out scores of 10 to almost every single scantily-clad young lady that walks the runway, until an older woman shows up and receives 1s across the board, her old age and their old age the sagging butt of the joke.

The scene itself represents most of the film’s humor: sex-deprived old men ogling provocatively-dressed young women at parties and clubs. By 21st-century standards, it’s all rather tame, but from a geriatric perspective, it’s raunchy. And initially, it feels perverse, almost uncomfortably perverted. But in the end, it’s more sad than creepy, and reflects each character’s need to feel young again and make up for some throbbing lack in their personal lives.

Sam’s issues concern his wife, who knows he isn’t happy in their marriage. When she gives him a free pass to cheat on her in Vegas – the permission comes in the form of a condom and a Viagra pill taped to a note that says, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”- he’s overjoyed, dancing on the street like a little boy.

Archie, on the other hand, is babied by his overprotective son who has been caring for him since he had a minor stroke. When Archie gets the call about the bachelor party, he knows his son would never let him go, so he sneaks out and leaves a note telling him he’s gone to a church retreat.

It’s one of the movie’s best scenes because it’s framed in a way that suggests Archie is now an escaped convict running out of time, sneaking out of a window on the first floor of the house, but treating it as if it’s four stories up.

Though each character has clear motivations, their characterizations are nonetheless thin, so the jokes are much more resonant than the backstories. And however helpless these men seem to be at times, they turn out to be remarkably resourceful, making pitying them hard to do.

Which is fine, because “Last Vegas” knows exactly what kind of movie it wants to be, providing ample entertainment for its target audience without alienating the younger folk, one of those films that must have been just as fun to make as it is to watch.