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Aging jokes grow old in ‘Last Vegas’

Few modern films are as comfortable as swimming in conventionality as Jon Turteltaub’s Last Vegas seems to be. Take that comment in stride though.

Last Vegas
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 104 min.
Stars: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline

Last Vegas is a perfectly serviceable seriocomic piece of filmmaking bound to comfortably accompany airplane passengers trying to ease their minds and fall asleep.

Backhanded compliments aside, it’s striking that a film comprised of four forceful, previously daring actors – combining for a grand total of six Oscar victories and nine nominations – would come together to make Last Vegas.

The Hangover: Elderly Edition (a working title CBS Films just nearly used) casts Robert De Niro (Paddy), Kevin Kline (Sam), Morgan Freeman (Archie), and Michael Douglas (Billy) as childhood friends from Brooklyn who are reuniting to celebrate Billy’s first marriage in Sin City.

Everything isn’t peaches and roses between the longtime friends though. Tribulations lie beneath the surface, especially between Billy and Paddy.

The four (save for Paddy, a widower who has yet to get over the recent death of his of wife of 50 years) try to get out of the rut old age has them mired in.

Sam, a not-so-proud resident of soul-sucking Naples, Florida, has been given a pass from his wife (played by Joanna Gleason) to have tryst with any woman of his liking.

While Sam scopes out the casino for potential talent, Archie takes his money to the blackjack table, and Billy walks around Vegas contemplating whether marrying a woman half his age is actually what is heart desires.

Enter Diana (Mary Steenburgen), an older woman who ditched her law practice a year ago to pursue her true passion in life: singing.

The four old geezers are all taken aback by Mary’s classical voice. Upon further interaction, Billy and Paddy take a liking to her – and her to them.

The same romantic tension that existed when they were children resurfaces. There’s something darker and deeper hovering around this subplot, something Last Vegas – in an attempt to remain upbeat and optimistic – too often shies away from.

Such disappointment is the common narrative of Las Vegas unfortunately. Interesting characters – all of whom fear the ephemeral nature of life – take a backseat to screenwriter Dan Fogelman’s cheeky comedy.

There’s enough humor about the process of aging to last you a lifetime. Some of it lands, most of it doesn’t.

While I could never deny the delight of an always charming and suave Morgan Freeman dancing to Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September,” Last Vegas, much to its own detriment, consistently and lazily rests on the laurels of its four leading men.

Their charisma has a limit, and eventually the film grows tiring. There’s nothing wrong with the clichéd narrative of grownups trying to rejuvenate their lives by reliving their youth. But Last Vegas doesn’t even attempt to make an effort to reconstruct or reconfigure this worn-down narrative.

Instead we receive something a younger Douglas, Freeman, De Niro, and Kline would never (consciously) partake in: a by-the-numbers, crowd-pleasing comedy that’s as amorphous as it is harmless.

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