To call “Last Vegas” the geriatric “Hangover” is both accurate and misleading, as the main fun here is not so much the broad humor as it is to watch five great old pros - Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and an entirely captivating Mary Steenburgen - imparting pleasure while obviously having it themselves. Although formulaic in design and programmed to meet its quota of laughs, the film makes a point of going beyond basic expectations into some legitimate aspects of mature friendships without getting soggy about it.
The actors play friends who have known one another for nearly six decades, as glimpsed in a Brooklyn childhood prologue. Nowadays, Archie (Freeman) is a veteran of one stroke, Sam (Kline) is bored in early Florida retirement and Paddy (DeNiro) no longer leaves his New York apartment after his wife’s death.
By extreme contrast, ladies’ man and successful Malibu attorney Billy (Douglas) willfully ignores the calendar but finally decides it’s time to settle down - with a bride about a third his age. Despite reluctance on the part of Paddy, who says he hates Billy, the guys agree to meet in Vegas for a bachelor party on the Saturday night before Billy’s Sunday wedding.
Director Jon Turteltaub’s signal accomplishment here is to have created a congenial environment in which the actors could bond and have fun within proper boundaries.
The foursome’s approach to these uncomplicated characters is at once relaxed and alert, loose and quick on their toes; they’re just such good company for a couple of hours, both when they’re rejecting the usual expectations to act their age but especially when they’re working through emotional issues for which even decades of experience provide inadequate preparation.
In every instance, the long-buried feelings that fire the dynamics of the men’s character arcs cut rewardingly across the “sitcommy” ways the guys are initially presented.
Cranky stay-at-home Paddy evolves into a man afflicted with profound romantic angst and Billy risks renewed conflict with Paddy to at last look beyond a woman’s surface charms and probe the potential of a mature romantic relationship.
The actors are all great to watch. It may be that Freeman’s work stands out simply because, since he’s now most often cast in solemn, grave, not to say God-like roles, he hasn’t cut loose like this in a long time; like his character, he should do it more often.
At first it seems that Douglas as an L.A. playboy is just too obvious, but the sensitivity and soul that Diana (Steenburgen) ushers to the surface as Billy spends more time with her elicits many grace notes from the actor. DeNiro morphs his stubborn Archie Bunker-like complainer into a hurt man with a couple of exceptional grievances.
And then there’s Steenburgen’s Diana. Her musical gifts draw you in first but her self-deprecating humor, wisdom of the ways of the world and fundamental optimism make her a keeper and deserving of heated competition among men.
In her best film role in years, the actress delivers a fully realized character from the outset and deepens it into someone you really care about. This is one of those films you will talk about with your family and friends after you leave the theater.