Thursday, October 31, 2013

AARP Hangover: "Last Vegas" more eye-rolling than crowd-pleasing



Last Vegas (2013)
105 min., rated PG-13.

Judging by the nonstop howling at an advanced screening, "Last Vegas" will most likely be a hit in the mainstream, for whatever that's worth. After all, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline are four of the greatest acting legends in the biz and they surely deserve a lightweight, work-for-hire project, where they can cut loose and just have fun together in their late-'60s and mid-'70s. It sounds like a can't-miss proposition, right? The casting is pretty inspired, all four actors are amiable company, and the premise has potential for amusement, but, for a comedic star vehicle, it's not legendary by a long shot. Perma-tans, Viagra, hip replacements, fanny packs, generational gaps, and the complications of an automobile's power door locks are all fodder for comedy in this blah, middle-of-the-road piffle. It's eager to please as a broadly hilarious party, but when much of the humor is desperately hacky and infallible in producing groans and eye rolls as opposed to actual laughing, the fun isn't really rubbing off on the viewer. 

Billy, Paddy, Archie, and Sam grew up together as the closest of pals in Brooklyn, but that was 58 years ago. Now, Sam (Kline) is living the retired life in Naples, Florida, taking water aerobic classes with his wife (Joanna Gleason). Having suffered a stroke, Archie (Freeman) is now living in New Jersey with his overprotective son (Michael Ealy), daughter-in-law and his little granddaughter. Still residing in Brooklyn, Paddy (De Niro) is a recluse who doesn't leave his bathrobe or his apartment after losing his beloved wife years ago. Then there's the orange-skinned, hazelnut-haired Billy (Douglas): he's still living the rich playboy life in his modern Malibu home but finally ready to tie the knot with his girlfriend, who's half his age, after proposing at the unlikeliest of places (during his eulogy at a late buddy's funeral). This means getting the gang back together for a bachelor party in Las Vegas, but long-standing resentments will have to be resolved between Paddy and Billy since they both liked the same girl as young boys, before Paddy married her and Billy later never showed up at her funeral. Meanwhile, Sam is bent on putting a condom and Viagra pill (courtesy of his understanding wife) to use for a "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" weekend, and Archie just wants to party like it's 1959 again without being treated as if he's infirm.

Directed by Jon Turteltaub (he of the "National Treasure" movies and, long ago, "While You Were Sleeping" and "Cool Runnings") with a fondness for montages, "Last Vegas" is the safe, forced, and schmaltzy treatment of a story about reconnecting and fulfilling one's life at any age that could have worked. That's not to say that this had to be a sober drama and couldn't have been a good time, nothing more, but, despite a breezy pace and a few energetic song choices, director Turteltaub and writer Dan Fogelman (2012's "The Guilt Trip") don't really stick the landing on the jokes. The cleverest moment that was already revealed in the trailer and still earns a chuckle is the most simple: Archie plays sick in front of his son and then sneaks out of the house, going to jump out of the window, which, when the camera pulls out, is only on the first story. The plot can be telegraphed way in advance and predictability is officially locked in once Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a self-deprecating lounge singer and double love interest for both the head-butting Paddy and the soon-to-be-married Billy, enters the picture. As for a skirt-chasing subplot where Sam wants to get lucky with a younger babe and nearly scores, it's creepy and cringe-worthy. And haven't we just about had it with that clich├ęd contrivance where a character just happens to be listening in on a conversation he or she shouldn't be hearing? It's as if the film was simultaneously trying too hard while not trying at all.

The four headliners must have desired to work with each other (and host a poolside bikini contest in the context of the story, of course), while collecting a paycheck in the process, so they're already having a better time than the audience. They do have a comfortable chemistry together, but the material they're given to work with goes limp and discouragingly does them few favors. Freeman and Kline are given the most comic chances, and most of those chances consist of mugging, but that's more than what Douglas gets to do. De Niro is pretty much playing De Niro with that iconic scowl and sometimes looks like he'd rather be anyplace else, especially when half of the electronic-dance duo LMFAO thrusts his speedo-clad crotch in front of De Niro's face. However, the actor eventually finds a poignancy as a widower who can't let go. Outshining all of them is someone with different anatomical parts and her name is Mary Steenburgen, who glows even as a sexagenarian and steals the sharpest one-liners. Her lovely, ingratiating Diana is a retired Atlanta tax attorney who moved to Vegas to pursue her dream as a lounge singer. The watchably charismatic Romany Malco is fun as the MGM Aria's concierge who makes sure the foursome has a good time; "Entourage" co-star Jerry Ferrara comes in as a womanizing douche who later becomes the old gang's slave; and Roger Bart is always a caution, turning up here as a Madonna-impersonating transvestite with a non-stereotypical surprise.

Frequently tone-deaf, tacky, and constantly amused with itself, with so much bikini eye-candy being ogled by codgers who could be their grandfathers that it radiates an air of icky sexism, "Last Vegas" isn't that endearing and never quite as funny as it wants to be. It coasts along on the good will of its game cast and relies on playing Earth, Wind & Fire's infectious go-to wedding-reception anthem "September" to be crowd-pleasing. Also, there is the occasional smile and giggle, and it is admittedly fun to watch Morgan Freeman sincerely trying to tip a nightclub bouncer a ten-dollar bill and then getting a buzz from one Vodka Red Bull. Despite having the potential to receive a lot of fanfare with audiences of a certain age, none of it is enough to push "Last Vegas" above pandering mediocrity for mass consumption. It might be better than it looks from the trailers and TV spots, which is to say that it's generally harmless without being any good or worth your time.

Grade:  C - 

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