Editor’s Notes: Last Vegas is now out in wide theatrical release. For an additional perspective, read Kamran’s review (73/100).
Last Vegas is another in a recent trend of gathering legendary older actors together to talk about how old they are. That’s not to say that it’s not completely without charm or humor, but it’s a bit tiresome how these films don’t attempt to capitalize on anything about the stars other than their age. It seems like they are trying to get the same feeling of anticipation and excitement that Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) generated by having the first onscreen scene between Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro but just get big name people and give them nothing to do but be in the same frame together.
Last Vegas is another in a recent trend of gathering legendary older actors together to talk about how old they are. That’s not to say that it’s not completely without charm or humor, but it’s a bit tiresome how these films don’t attempt to capitalize on anything about the stars other than their age.
The story is pretty simple: Billy (Michael Douglas) is in his late 60s and is getting married for the first time. He calls his old friends Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) to tell them and have them and Paddy (Robert DeNiro) to meet him in Las Vegas for his bachelor party and his wedding that coming Sunday. There is bad blood between Billy and Paddy because Billy didn’t go to Paddy’s wife’s funeral, a woman for whose affection both jockeyed for when they were kids.
Paddy and Billy’s relationship is further strained when they both fall for nightclub singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen). This goes back and forth throughout the entire film until it is ultimately and predictably resolved.
There is a certain charm in watching these five veteran actors work together, and each one gives it all the material deserves. Unfortunately that isn’t a taxing request for this group. They all seem like they’re having fun, and at times that fun does catch, but those scenes are few and far between. Writer Dan Fogleman (who has penned mostly animated features) seems more concerned with age jokes than he is with character and situational development. It’s like he heard a bunch of Henny Youngman one-liners about age, modified them for today and built a film around them. There are countless times in the film where younger people make ageist jokes then later apologize for getting the old guys wrong and that they can be fun. All of these scenes get tedious after the first or second one, but no one seems to care.
Director Jon Turtelaub doesn’t do much to make anything exciting or interesting either. His camera pretty much lays there and presents, not making any of the sequences do more than just fall onto the screen. This is a man known mostly for his National Treasure films and as bad as they are, he at least seems to be involved in some way with them. Here, it feels like they just needed someone to sit in the director’s chair and yell cut when the dialogue on the page ran out. Everything feels static, even when the camera is moving. I could claim that is an ironic comment on the age of the stars, making another pointless age joke, but I think it’s more laziness. He really doesn’t seem to be invested in the picture. Either that or he’s just not that good of a director which is just as likely given his track record of two National Treasure films (with another on the way), Phenomenon, 3 Ninjas and so on. He may not want to get in the way of the superlative talent onscreen, but that would just be a cop out.
There is fun to be had in this film, if only through the actors. It’s clear that they signed on so they could all work together, no matter what the end result. They are all having fun and again, sometimes that fun reaches the audience.
Out of everyone, it’s Steenburgen that seems to be having the most fun, possibly because she really doesn’t do too many films anymore. She’s delightful as Diana, the outsider trying to have fun while in a way trying to mend the broken bond between Billy and Paddy. She’s also happy to have people listen to her singing, because she often performs to an empty room. She infuses an air of positivity and happiness where there is often sadness and anger.
The other two who seem like they’re having lots of fun are Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline. Both are kind of relegated to side roles, like the comic relief of the more ‘serious’ story of the rift between Paddy and Billy. They have their asides to each other and generally just make snide comments about the proceedings.
It’s the failed attempt at drama that really brings the film down. The animosity Paddy has against Billy is over played and under important. It’s an obvious attempt to force character development on shallow, one-note characters that never quite delivers the punch it was supposed to. There is never a moment throughout the film that you don’t think they will patch things up, so there is no sense of relief when they do. Everything is obvious and everything happens exactly when you expect it to. When everyone is having a good time, Paddy has an angry outburst and walks out, then shows up again just when he’s needed. He then has another angry outburst and storms off again. We’re supposed to be watching grown men nearing their golden years, but some scenes are played like we’re watching teenagers. The characterizations just don’t work for the caliber of actors inhabiting them.
I know all that seems pretty harsh, and I really don’t mean to be. There is fun to be had in this film, if only through the actors. It’s clear that they signed on so they could all work together, no matter what the end result. They are all having fun and again, sometimes that fun reaches the audience. It’s not a particularly bad film; it’s just disappointing because of what it could have been given the actors. With a better script and an involved director, this could have been a really good time at the movies. Instead, it winds up being passible and leaves us wishing that there had been more there. It’s light and fluffy and ultimately evaporates quickly, leaving very little of itself behind. So if you want a film that will comically riff on the aging process with intelligence and wit, skip this film. If you’re looking for old person jokes and a running gag involving a Viagra pill and a condom for a sanctioned extra-marital affair, punch your ticket for Last Vegas.
[notification type=”star”]62/100 ~ OKAY. If you’re looking for old person jokes and a running gag involving a Viagra pill and a condom for a sanctioned extra-marital affair, punch your ticket for Last Vegas.[/notification]