(SPOILERS) I’m all in favour of more movies featuring performers of pensionable age in leading roles, just as long as they aren’t lousy. Last Vegas is of such adverse quality, it makes Stand Up Guys seem like an unalloyed classic in comparison. It’s fairly self-evident that some not-so bright exec (or budding writer) decided to pitch The Hangover for old guys, right down to the Vegas location. Many will debate the merits of Todd Phillips’ film (I liked it), but this crumbly, soiled, too-damn-spineless-to-risk-offending-its-intended-audience (just a little bit risqué, that will be sufficient) is utterly bereft. And yet its gambit worked; four over-the-hill stars – all Oscar winners to boot (who haven’t worked together before) – up to not such hijinks equals a box office hit.
There’s nothing in the set up that should need explaining, it writes itself, but I’ll go ahead anyway; Billy (Douglas), suddenly conscious of his own mortality, decides to tie the knot with a woman nearly 40 years his junior and invites his childhood friends (although there are 14 years between the youngest and oldest, and Freeman the oldest has weathered better than at least two of his juniors) to Vegas for the wedding. Archie (Freeman; his character had a stroke a while back and his son smothers him) and Sam (Kline; his marriage has lost its sparkle) decide to throw him a bachelor party and manage to drag misery-guts Paddy (De Niro; his wife died recently and he doesn’t forgive Billy for missing the funeral) along too. When they get there lots of really funny stuff with old coots doing youngster stuff ensues, while both Billy and Paddy find their heads turned by an age-appropriate lounge singer (Steenburgen).
We knew De Niro no longer had any shame, and we knew Freeman would lend “instant gravitas” vocals to any old shit, so their presence here isn’t such a surprise (Freeman’s been making movies about being nearly dead for the best part of a decade now, after all). But Douglas is running on fumes here like never before, even given all those so-so thrillers he made in the decade from the mid-‘90s (a poor man’s Harrison Ford, Ford inherited that mantle subsequently). He’s an actor who should never try to coast on charm, because he comes across as inveterately smug if his characters have no edge. On occasion he’s played off that marvellously (The War of the Roses, Romancing the Stone) but he’s stranded here. De Niro is playing an irascible sod, and even gets to stumble through his tired Mob routine, so it’s almost as if he didn’t even have to get out of bed in the morning and show up on set; they came to him.
Only Kline, the youngest of the quartet, escapes with any dignity intact. That’s because he’s actually energetic and a naturally sharp comedian, even when the script is doing its best to sink him. Sam’s quite extraordinarily sloppy set up has wife Miriam (Joanna Gleeson) give him a free pass to get his end away in order to perk up his life and their relationship. To this end she presents him with a condom and some Viagra (it’s just a blessed relief that the mortifying stiffy sequence with Pacino in Stand Up Guys doesn’t recur here). Cluelessly, we’re supposed to congratulate Sam for not going through with the deed with some young totty because he realises how much he loves his wife.
So Kline’s amiable, even if Sam has to learn that trannies are people too. None of these guys have much chemistry, but at least Kline and Freeman have a sufficiently laid back presence to let the embarrassments and rote plotting wash over them. This includes copious bodily function and age jokes, and old people with potty mouths (but not too potty, this is a 12/PG13). De Niro is often quite painful to watch, and you occasionally get the impression that Douglas is not quite sure why he agreed to star. Freeman cannot do drunk acting (they drink lots of red bull and vodka, the crazy hooligans; they’ll be tasting that the entirety of the next day).
There’s a hugely depressing scene where the guys judge a bikini contest at a pool party, set to hugely depressing bangin’ tunes that no self-respecting sexagenarian would suffer gladly. It climaxes in the MC Stefan Gordy waving his crotch in De Niro’s face. Which, frankly, De Niro has coming if he’s so indiscriminate. As his character says at one point, “You call this a nice weekend? This is sad”. You got it, Bobby.
Mercifully, Steenburgen is a consistent sunny bright spot in this sea of frothing decay. Somehow, whenever Diana is on screen, the picture shifts into sincerity and warmth, which quickly disperses in the next scene. Someone should give her a proper autumn romance movie (preferably not opposite yukking Douglas or somnambulant De Niro, though).
The shots are called by Jon Turteltaub with consummate indifference. Somehow he became one of Bruckheimer’s main guys for a while (National Treasures) despite having an abundant lack of flair. The worst charge I can level at him here, aside from maintaining a career path of abject mediocrity, is that he endorsed the horrific soundtrack, with horribly chipper sub-80s jazz noodling from Mark Mothersbaugh and aforementioned foghorn dance anthems.
The saddest aspect of all this is that it wouldn't be that difficult to make an ageing ensemble picture – even with such a derivative premise – halfway decent. Wheel in some desiccated stars who actually spark off each other (De Vito came to mind, if you’ve got Douglas already), a writer who had absolutely no involvement with Fred Claus, and a director who cares just a jot, and they might have had something. And avoid the crap celeb cameo (De Niro’s Righteous Kill chum Fiddy Cent). Instead this is a charmless, bad taste mess. Even the attempts at reflection – when Steenburgen isn’t there – are stiff and contrived. Last Vegas made me feel very old.