Director Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure) puts the sex in sexagenarian in Last Vegas, the story of four old friends who come together for a bachelor party in Sin City. A Hangover for the retirement-village set, the film feels a little like the kind of movie Grampa Simpson would absolutely hate – populated by old people who are “vibrant, fun-loving sex maniacs.” But even if its humor mostly comes from fish-in-a-barrel jokes about prostate cancer, nap times and dinner parties that start at 4:15 in the afternoon, Last Vegas qualifies as a low-stakes gamble that pays off in kind.
Michael Douglas (Beyond the Candelabra) plays Billy, a high-powered 60-something businessman who decides to propose to his 30-something girlfriend while delivering the eulogy at his mentor’s funeral. Stuck in their own ruts as retirees in Florida and New Jersey, his childhood buddies Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) insist on throwing a bachelor party for Billy, and head to Vegas to enjoy some adolescent hijinks. But before they can start having fun, Billy requests that they convince Paddy (Robert De Niro) to come along join in on the fun, even though the two of them are on the outs.
Successfully tricking Paddy into reuniting with his estranged pal, Archie and Sam scramble to start the merrymaking. But after the foursome meets a lounge singer named Diana (Mary Steenburgen) whose sophistication enchants both Paddy and Billy, their tenuous friendship gets tested yet again, throwing the bachelor party – and even Billy’s wedding – into jeopardy.
Turtletaub has a gift for elevating silly-concept storytelling into something, if not more complex, then at least more compelling, and works his usual magic in helping this old-age raunchfest play in a more understated way. But performances from the four lead actors, who joyfully make fun of their own advancing age, is what will undoubtedly keep audiences entertained. Kline’s character Sam, for example, spends the first part of the film making fun of his Florida neighbors’ clichéd retirement home existence, but he also offers a young lady Lipitor – a medication for high blood pressure – when she asks if he has any drugs. Similarly, Freeman’s Archie has become a prisoner of his son’s protectiveness after suffering a mild stroke, and he eagerly jumps into the bachelor party proceedings, eventually succumbing to a high-energy, drunken stupor brought on by too many vodka Red Bulls.
Douglas and De Niro, on the other hand, are given more to do dramatically, but it honestly seems as if De Niro was cast more for his dyspeptic disposition than for the pedigree he once had as an actor. Scowling through a good two-thirds of the film opposite Douglas’ age-defying bronzing – a consistent source of humor – De Niro provides the characters’ adventures with an underpinning of sad humanity, as he struggles to figure out to do with his life after the death of his childhood sweetheart. Notwithstanding the constant barrage of jokes about Douglas marrying a 31-year-old, the character is forced to come to terms with his age in a way that the other characters already have, eventually finding a woman his own age who offers something meaningful to his life. That said, Steenburgen’s character feels like this age group’s equivalent of a manic pixie dream girl, a flawless, centered beauty who helps the male characters open up, even if she doesn’t necessarily have enough substance for them to fall for her quite as hard as they eventually do.
At the same time, the way in which they ogle young women is clearly supposed to be acceptable because, well, they can’t really follow through on their leering, but the film’s eventual arrival at the suggestion that younger women are essentially playthings while older ones are companions of substance feels skeevier than the filmmakers no doubt intended. But in the same way the characters prevail over their next-generation counterparts, Last Vegas will probably play like gangbusters to older audiences, who are probably thrilled to watch vibrant, fun-loving sex maniacs of a certain age. Ultimately, while there’s nothing new – pun intended – about the film or its ideas, there’s a consistent level of charm that the actors generate in their interactions with one another, and something fairly cute about them trying to live it up long after they’ve been rendered obsolete by younger generations.
Last Vegas opens today nationwide.