Sometimes I have to ask myself what makes some of the more prestigious films that have already begun the awards season onslaught that much better than the mainstream fluff that comes out the rest of the year and have just as much potential to deliver satisfactory film-going experiences, if not more enjoyable ones. These Oscar-bait films that studios reserve for the final two months of the year yearn to be important, thought-provoking, and of course have a level of class to them that lesser, studio fare made more for profit than art could even imagine. Still, there is a comfort food feeling that comes along with much of the big studio fare that comes out around the holiday season and older audience members, families, and unknowing theater-goers are looking for just that kind of thing; something to be entertained by for an hour and a half, a quick escape from the real world that might offer fun conversation later or something that may allow them common ground or a nice suggestion. Last Vegas no doubt looks to fill that type of quota this fall as it has every single aspect these types of general audience members are looking for. First and foremost it has the star power, employing four highly recognized and well-respected actors that together will have no problem bringing in a wide range of people and second it is playing off the well-received first (if not now played out by its two sequels) Hangover film, but with the older generation so that we can lean on the crutch of laughing at senior citizens doing inappropriate things while any extra comedy might come purely from the chemistry between the four leads. This is essentially Red, but for comedy rather than action flicks and to a degree that is fine because ultimately this is pretty harmless, fun stuff and that both were able to nab Morgan Freeman has to mean there is at least something worth taking a look at here even if the results are more minor than substantial.

Sam (Kevin Kline), Archie (Morgan Freeman), Paddy (Robert DeNiro), and Billy (Michael Douglas) in Last Vegas.
Beginning with the obligatory establishing moments of our four friends in their younger days we are introduced to Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert DeNiro), Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) as they take advantage of the photo booth in the store Sam works at, but apparently doesn't receive a paycheck from. Their gang is also made up of one, inherently special girl named Sophie (Olivia Stuck) who has clearly set up a divide between Billy and Paddy and their conflicting interests in her. It shows their bond, their respect, but most importantly their ability to be themselves around one another and this is essential as the film then flashes forward fifty-eight years to find each of our friends in varying stages of the winter of their lives. While some may argue who is actually doing the best it is clear that Douglas' Billy has the most still going for him in life. He has done well for himself as he has plenty of money and has had what are no doubt countless nights with many different women, but he has never settled down and never married until he comes to the realization that maybe it is time for a change. He realizes this, unfortunately, in the middle of giving a eulogy at a friends wedding who he declares gave up on life and vows that is something he will never do and so to prove his point, at the age of seventy, pops the question to his thirty-two year old girlfriend Lisa (Bre Blair). This naturally prompts a series of calls to his oldest and dearest friends to inform them of the news which results in them insisting on throwing Billy a bachelor party despite their current situations rummaging through someone else's medicine cabinet and being placed on lockdown by their son for fear of another stroke. The one Billy doesn't dare call though is Paddy who still holds a grudge for reasons unknown to the audience for a good portion of the film. It is up to Archie and Sam to fly to Brooklyn and persuade Paddy he needs to make the trip and support his friend no matter the differences they've had in the past. The thing is they don't give him this lecture because they withhold the information that the reason for the trip is indeed Billy. Of course, this is discovered as soon as the trio land in Nevada and from here we follow these guys on a crazy few days in the city of sin meant both in good and not so good ways.

While everything about this little film smells of safety and recycled jokes the real treat here is simply getting to see these guys on screen together. While it doesn't require a whole lot of effort from any of them they are more than willing to put it forward and in the end makes this a much better film than it likely had any right to be. Douglas plays up his public persona as the older guy interested in the younger women, ditching the conventional suburbia life for an existence that revolves around weekends and parties and of course the lesson of it all comes around to show us that despite these advantages and luxuries they don't mean anything if you have no one to share them with who means more than said possessions. Both Kline and Freeman are more the happy-go-lucky guys of the group that don't have the serious life issues on their shoulders that both Billy and DeNiro's Paddy are facing. The biggest obstacle Freeman is dealing with is that of escaping his son Ezra's (Michael Ealy) overprotective watch that, if nothing else, makes for a few more opportunities that allow Freeman and Kline to play up the slapstick elements of their characters. Kline's Sam has a marriage in the pits, but has been offered a kind of hall pass for the weekend and as he continues to try and take advantage of it we are also allowed the opportunity to see Kline (who they've seemingly aged quite well as he is easily the youngest of the bunch at 66) goof off and stretch his abilities far past the dramatic work he's known for and become the most outrageous and willing of the group to throw himself into situations and brand himself a fool; it is all quite endearing. As the bummer of the group though, DeNiro does the most amount of actual acting here as he brings a true sense of perspective to the shenanigans his fellow friends are allowing themselves to invest in and how sad it is in the big picture. Recovering from the death of his wife not a year prior, Paddy finds the first person he feels he can really communicate with in Mary Steenburgen's lounge-singing Diana. Naturally, Billy feels a connection with Diana as well, but Steenburgen is such a heartwarming presence we understand the immediate conflict. Her presence along with the performances of our four leads ultimately transcend what is an otherwise weak script with an excessively sentimental final act.

Diana (Mary Steenburgen) and Paddy share a quiet moment together in an otherwise bustling city.
It would have been easy to dismiss Last Vegas strictly as The Hangover for the older set, but there is no sense of mystery to the proceedings, no over-the-top vulgarity and there is no stand-out performance or character along the lines of Zach Galifianakis' Alan. In fact, Last Vegas may have served as a better template for the sequel to The Hangover than Part II actually turned out to be, but that can only mean good news for this first film in what is likely a hopeful franchise for CBS Films in the vein of that top-earning comedy series and The Expendables as future films would no doubt hope to add more and more to the roster of older, prestigious actors willing to throw their reputation to the wind and have a little fun. That is after all, what Last Vegas intends to be and nothing more. We don't learn any valuable life lessons, we don't get a better picture of the senior psyche, what we get are a plethora of Viagra and baby jokes concerning both Sam's allowance by his wife, Miriam (Joanna Gleason), to cheat on her and hopefully bring some life back into his eyes and the age of Billy's bride to be. All in all, the film works as a fine enough time-filler that you can safely discuss around the Thanksgiving dinner table either with those who have or have not seen it or for those who might venture to seek it out during spare holiday vacation time. There is no weight to the going-ons here and as soon as you leave the theater you will likely have forgotten almost everything that occurred in the movie, but that isn't to say there isn't a sweetness to the proceedings despite its attempts to make this Grumpy Old Men behaving badly. The moral code of the film finds it necessary to remind its characters that there are more important things in life than having a good time while providing a slight commentary on the vapid music stylings of today's club scene and the "good times roll, regrets later" lifestyle of the younger generation that have the time and trust funds to keep Vegas in business. The bottom line is there is enough of a conflict, enough talent, and enough laughs to make this an enjoyable romp rather than dismissing it as a waste of time and all the aforementioned attributes keep it cozily in line for default viewings when there's a large crowd to please.


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