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Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013

Last Vegas

Douglas, De Niro, Freeman and Kline hit the Town

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It’s an old Hollywood trick and sometimes it pays off. In the comedy Last Vegas, a gaggle of instantly recognizable stars—Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline—are given roles allowing them to play off each other’s familiar mannerisms. Unlike Ocean’s Eleven or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, it’s not a crime that brings them together but a bachelor party, a blowout in the city that means sin.

The backstory is established swiftly. Billy (Douglas), Paddy (De Niro), Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kline) were best friends in Flatbush back when cars had tailfins. Billy is the success story, the wheeler-dealer tycoon with a trophy 30-year-old whom he’s about to make his wife. Paddy lapsed into grouchy misanthropy—seldom shedding his bathrobe—after the death of his wife. Archie has become the child to his son, who pesters him to take his pills and keep warm. Sam is appalled by life as a Florida retiree. Paddy hates Billy after Billy skipped his wife’s funeral, but there’s more to that story. Paddy has to be tricked to accompany Sam and Archie to Billy’s weekend extravaganza on the Vegas strip.

The challenge of aging in a society fixated on youth has become a common theme for aging Baby Boomer actors. This particular iteration of The Bucket List is often an old man’s fantasy of the longed-for Saturnalias of youth—or perhaps the fun he never had. Las Vegas is the place where visitors are licensed to play the fool, and for the four friends from Flatbush, it’s time to take their meds and let the party begin—after naptime.

An improbable plot twist puts the gang on top of Vegas in a penthouse suite with access to everything. The gag of wrinkled elders gawking at the teeming multitudes of bodacious babes doing the wiggle-jiggle on the dance floor gets tired after the second outing, yet Last Vegas has many hilarious one-liners and gags, including the ringtone on Archie’s phone, Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle,” signaling his son’s calls. By the standards of contemporary Hollywood, Last Vegas is a funny comedy. The trick pays off.

The plot trajectory is as easy to follow as the path of the sun across the sky. Romance will bloom in the form of Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a downsized, divorced tax attorney-turned-lounge singer. The ice between Billy and Paddy will start to melt. Sam, carrying the condom his wife gave him as permission to cut loose for the weekend, will get laid.

Last Vegas draws much of its humor from the commonplace maladies and limitations of old age, yet in contrast to all that callow youth around them, the oldsters have a bit of wisdom to impart. The old ones get the last laugh.