Last Vegas, the story of four cantankerous codgers in their late 60s who reunite for a weekend bachelor party in Vegas, is the sort of movie in which everything that happens is diagrammed, arced, and pressed through the gold-leaf cookie cutter of mainstream Hollywood comedy. Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline are each playing men who are stuck in a rut and need to be prodded back to life. Thus, the outline of the movie is basically City Slickers meets Grumpy Old Men meets (ironically enough) a teens-losing-their-virginity farce, since most of these characters have been away from sex and romance for so long that they might as well be starting over. When you go to a movie like Last Vegas, you know that you’re seeing a comedy-as-market-tested-package, yet on that level this one is reasonably competent — it rarely goes over-the-top or insults your intelligence. And since Douglas, De Niro, Freeman, and Kline display the soft-shoe touch of old pros who know how to let loose and enjoy themeslves playing these stodgy, insult-tossing cranks, the actors put just a little bit of flesh on the movie’s high-concept bones.
The characters have been devoted pals ever since they were growing up in Brooklyn in the ’50s, when they dubbed themselves the Flatbush Four. But life has now dimmed their dreams. Billy (Douglas), the wealthy, meticulously preserved, hollow-man overachiever of the group, is the one getting married — to a woman (Bre Blair) he may not really love, and who happens to be nearly 40 years younger than he is. If that sounds creepy, fear not: The film makes every cradle-robbing joke it can at his expense so the audience doesn’t have to. (It also ribs Michael Douglas for his ”hazelnut” hair and spray-on tan, though I would add that the tan doesn’t look remotely tan: It’s closer to spray-on Tropicana.) Out to have a good time, Billy asks his old friends to join him in Sin City for a weekend party — an offer that takes some cajoling since most of the pals feel like they’ve already checked out. Paddy (De Niro) is a scowling cynic mired in depression ever since his wife died a year ago. Archie (Morgan Freeman), who suffered a minor stroke, views himself as an ailing wreck, no longer allowed to do the things — like drinking and dancing — that once gave him joy. Sam (Kevin Kline), a nebbish with a white thatch of hair and beard (think Hemingway as tax accountant), enjoys the comfort and security of a 40-year marriage but feels almost literally bored to death, a situation so transparent that right before he leaves, his wife (Joanna Gleason) gifts him with a Viagra pill and a condom so he can sleep with somebody else. Hello, Vegas!
I steeled myself for the moment when these four would fall into what-happens-in-Vegas ”high jinks,” but fortunately, they don’t. The movie never enters that Hangover unreality zone. Instead, it has mild fun with how out of touch they are (good laugh: Archie tries to get into a hip club by tipping the doorman a whopping $10). Along the way, they befriend Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a lonely nightclub singer who becomes the focal point of a romantic rivalry between Paddy and — yes — Billy (it says something about Douglas that he can play a groom-to-be falling for someone else?and still get you to find him a likable crocodile). After a while, you truly start to see the formula gears churning, but given that, it helps to have an actress like Mary Steenburgen, who at 60 still possesses an amazing glow, as well as a snappier comic timing than ever. Thrown into the highly controlled pleasure dome of Vegas, our old boys win at blackjack, become judges at a poolside bikini contest, and at one point pass themselves off as Mob kingpins. They also remember what it’s like to have fun without a shred of respectability, a sensation that Last Vegas captures all too well. B?