As the baby boomers creep into retirement age, it makes sense that there would be an onslaught of comedies about AARP members dealing with their physical and emotional baggage. Last Vegas fits right alongside films like Stand Up Guys, Wild Hogs, Hope Springs, and The Bucket List not only in its subject matter, but in the fact that any enjoyment to be had rests predominantly on the charm of the actors.
The setup is simple: When successful, nearly 70-year-old businessman Billy (Michael Douglas) proposes to his 31-year-old girlfriend, his three best friends since childhood demand to fly to Vegas and give him the greatest bachelor party ever. However, each of them has selfish reasons for concocting this plan. Sam (Kevin Kline) has retired to Florida with his wife, and he's miserable. His wife knows this and sends him off to Vegas with a condom, a Viagra pill, and a hall pass. Archie (Morgan Freeman) is recovering from a mild stroke and chafing under the overprotective behavior of his son. Paddy (Robert De Niro) has been in a funk ever since his wife passed away, and he clings to her memory as much as he clings to the grudge he's held against Billy for failing to show up for her funeral.
While it's tempting to chalk Last Vegas up as nothing but a geriatric version of The Hangover, the truth is that it's a big-budget Hallmark film. There is little debauchery on display, and screenwriter Dan Fogelman deserves credit for getting laughs not from the characters trying to act younger than they are, but from the passion they feel when they are squeezing a little bit of fun -- be it at the blackjack table or in romancing a lounge singer (Mary Steenburgen) -- out of their predictable lives.
However, there are no real surprises or insights offered up. What pleasure there is to be had comes from the four lead actors playing things relatively straight. Nobody is pushing the obvious jokes, and much of the time the chemistry is genuine -- they really seem like a group of guys who have known each other for decades. Kevin Kline is so relaxed and reassuring a screen presence that he makes every line of his inviting -- he's the one you would want as your own friend -- and Morgan Freeman is in his appealing guffaw-and-smile mode.
While that duo get to handle much of the comedy, Douglas and De Niro are given the dramatic beats; their story line is as predictable as the prostate jokes you expect from the opening credits, but both actors play their scenes well. De Niro isn't mugging like he is in the Fockers movies, and Douglas gets the best monologue in the film in which he acknowledges his disbelief and regret at how fast his life went by.
In previous scripts like Crazy, Stupid, Love., Fogelman showed an ability to craft a crowd-pleaser that gave good actors enough room to swim in the deep end of the emotional pool. While it's fun to watch Freeman, De Niro, Douglas, and Kline banter, the problem with Last Vegas is that it stays for too long in the shallow end.