Somewhere between John Cassavetes’s “Husbands” (1970) and “The Hangover” (2009) you will find “Last Vegas.” Not necessarily a bad place to be, except the film unfortunately has the madcap hilarity of the former and the emotional intensity of the latter. Throw in the geriatric jokes and smarmy sentimentality of “The Bucket List” (2007) and the result is a joyless buddy movie from genial hack Jon Turtletaub. And this despite having five Oscar winners in the cast.
It begins with a black-and-white shot of the Brooklyn Bridge sadly reminiscent of “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984). “Only You” plays on the trite and intrusive soundtrack, announcing that it’s the ’50s, and the golden, glowing cinematography adds to the nostalgia. The Flatbush Four, a quartet of rascally chums, are up to their usual tricks, stealing a bottle of scotch from the corner liquor store. Kids! Will they never grow up? Cut to “58 years later” (this title card is the funniest thing in the film) and the answer is – not in this movie.
Billy (Michael Douglas), the sweet-talking go-getter of the group, is calling from his ritzy Malibu beach house to tell fellow Flatbush fraternity members Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) that he popped the question to his 32-year-old girlfriend. At a funeral, no less – where he was giving the eulogy! This is a metaphor for a moral stated more clearly later in the film with the line, “Feeling a little bit alive is a lot better than waiting to die.”
In that spirit, the guys decide to go to Vegas to celebrate with a bachelor party. The trouble is, though, that Paddy (Robert De Niro, in a performance reminiscent of Moe Howard playing it straight) bears a grudge against Billy for reasons we need not go into. Rather than lose the comedy gold of having Paddy constantly grousing about Billy, the three others hoodwink him into going along.
So the group is back together, and the fun, not to mention the nonstop coffin-dodger jokes, begins. Adding to the zaniness is Diana, a lounge singer of a certain age played by Mary Steenburgen, who apparently was instructed by Turteltaub to grin like a jack-o-lantern regardless of the circumstances.
Will Sam ever use the condom his understanding wife gave him in hopes a fling might re-energize their love life? Will Billy find a life partner who is more age-appropriate? Will Paddy ever forgive Billy and stop being a grump? And Morgan Freeman, is he doomed to play a sweet and sassy old coot for the rest of his career? Perhaps it’s best not to find out. What happens in “Vegas” should stay in “Vegas.”Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.