If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if your favorite actor took you up on your vow that you would watch him read the phone book, “Last Vegas” will give you an idea of what that performance might be like.
A thoroughly contrived and artificial bonbon that gives four screen legends of a certain age the opportunity to chase skirts and punch out guys a third of their age in some of Sin City’s glitziest nightclubs, “Last Vegas” lives and dies by the aggregate charm and charisma of its stars, since that’s pretty much all it has to offer.
The film is a feature-length advertisement for the Aria resort (and its concomitant Cirque du Soleil show) with some male bonding and autumnal displays of testosterone thrown in for good measure. No one would begrudge Morgan Freeman the opportunity to have a flashy dance number on screen, but certainly there could be better venues for him to do so than this sexist sitcom.
After his mentor dies alone, 70-ish swinging bachelor Billy (Michael Douglas) decides it’s time to tie the knot with his 30-ish girlfriend. Since he engineered the bachelor parties for all his childhood pals, they decide to return the favor in Vegas: for Archie (Freeman), it’s a chance to get away from the smothering concern of his son Ezra (Michael Ealy), who’s been overprotective since Archie’s stroke, and for Sam (Kevin Kline), the trip offers respite from his doddering peers in a Florida retirement community.
Paddy (Robert De Niro), on the other hand, has had a lifelong rivalry with Billy — as kids, they both loved the same girl, who wound up marrying Paddy. The fact that Billy skipped her funeral one year previous has only made things worse. Still, Archie and Sam manage to get the still-grieving Paddy out of his apartment and onto a plane to Nevada.
The Billy-Paddy rivalry blossoms anew when they both fall for lounge singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen, burdened with some really unflattering bangs). Beyond that, each of the men gets their little bit of plot that the screenplay by Dan Fogelman (“The Guilt Trip,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love”) makes clear will be resolved as neatly and tidily and blandly as possible.
The situations (bikini contest! bar brawl!) feel like the stuff of a thousand prior Vegas movies, and the characters aren’t written with enough specificity to feel like the lifelong chums they’re supposed to be. But Douglas, De Niro, Freeman and Kline collectively stuff the movie into a sack and hoist it as high as they can manage.
It’s the sort of film where the men are written with something resembling personalities, while the women (with the exception of Joanna Gleason, as Kline’s understanding wife, and Steenburgen) are divided into two categories: sexy young babes for our heroes (and the camera) to ogle, and chubby old frumps that the movie punishes for the crime of not giving Michael Douglas an erection.
Ultimately, “Last Vegas” feels like a desperate attempt to graft “The Hangover” onto “Grumpy Old Men” (or, perhaps, “The Golden Girls”), and while the transplant never quite takes, you won’t lose your affection for the surgeons.