Last Vegas is as comfortable as warm blanket. It allows the audience to snuggle up with some light comedy, likable characters, and relatable situations. The movie never panders as much as it simply invites the audience to come along and enjoy a nice time at the theater. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every movie needs to overreach to be charming, and Jon Turtletaub‘s comedy always keeps us laughing. The key to all of it is watching the four lead actors have a good time, but never keeping their party exclusive even if the secret to youth is absorbing it via proximity to nubile partygoers.
The film opens with a fleet-footed introduction to kids Billy, Paddy, Archie, and Sam. They’ve mostly stuck together over the past 57 years, but old age is beginning to wear on each of them in a different way. Billy (Michael Douglas) is about to marry a woman less than half his age, Paddy (Robert De Niro) has become a recluse since his wife died, Archie (Morgan Freeman) is treated like an invalid by his over-protective son (Michael Ealy), and Sam (Kevin Kline) is bored out of his mind. Billy invites his old friends to his Las Vegas bachelor party, and over the course of the weekend each of the guys rekindles his own spark. However, Billy and Paddy have serious tension between them, and it only gets tougher when they start vying for the affection of charming lounge singer, Diana (Mary Steenburgen).
It’s refreshing to see the four actors look like they care, and this movie isn’t just an easy way to earn a paycheck. To be blunt, it’s recently been rare to see actors of this caliber giving the audience their all. It’s important to remember each actor has been in more than their fair share of terrific films, and they each deserve the Oscars they’ve won. But when we see them in a string of subpar or forgettable films, the shine wears off. They’re not at the top of their game in Last Vegas, but at least they’re doing well on the playing field. Perhaps it’s the mutual respect among the cast members, but they seem to be really enjoying themselves, and not in an exclusionary way. At one point, the characters literally invite all of Las Vegas to their party.
The chemistry is helped by jokes that are actually funny and surprisingly raunchy. There are more than enough made at the expense of the characters’ ages, but there are also plenty where they’re poking fun at each other. Some of the best one-liners come from Paddy, Archie, and Sam ragging on Billy for his fiancée’s age. The liveliness of the performances not only supports the characters’ arcs, but they anchor the comedy. Again, the simple act of caring from these four gentlemen goes a long way. And while Douglas, Freeman, and De Niro are all good, Kline is the scene stealer, which isn’t too surprising considering his Oscar came from one of the best comedies of all-time.
Steenburgen also proves to be a vital supporting player in more ways than one. In addition to bringing the ineffable quality that makes us instantly adore her in all of her movies (I challenge anyone to dislike Mary Steenburgen), she’s also the counterbalance providing depth not only to Billy and Paddy’s stories, but to the movie overall. She’s the mature but endearing female presence in a movie that sorely needs it. Last Vegas is a comedy for everyone, but it goes heavy on pushing a love for buxom babes. Turteltaub brings the picture right up to the line where he could drop in Yello’s “Oh Yeah” and sell Bud Light. It’s more rewarding to see the characters deal with their problems straight on rather than try to be “hip” or “cool”. The comedy comes from them being out of touch rather than trying to emulate young people or feed off their youth.
To make another comparison, Last Vegas is also like a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats. The adult in you can love the attempts at mature reconciliation and personal growth. But the kid in you can love all the silly comedy. But as anyone who’s had Frosted Mini-Wheats knows, it’s a sugary cereal. No one buys it for the nutritional value. They buy it because it’s sweet and delicious. Last Vegas gives a nod towards the “adult in us” but really it’s for the smiling kid.