There’s an unintentionally auto-critical scene early in Last Vegas when Robert De Niro is brought face to face with the thrusting crotch of the boorish MC at a bikini contest that the film’s protagonists are inexplicably judging. De Niro’s expression is fascinating, waves of weariness and indifference flowing across his iconic mug in what suggests a meta commentary on this tragic career phase in the actor’s career and, simultaneously, a genuine reaction on his part to the numbing effect of having to appear in another cynical squirt of pre-fab studio entertainment. In a film built around the predictable beats of a crass formula, it’s one of few moments that engender real emotion in the viewer, even if said emotion is disgust, sadness, and embarrassment by proxy.
De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Michael Douglas play a group of childhood friends now stuck in various stages of emotional or physical decrepitude. Paddy (De Niro) is a lonely widower moping around an apartment festooned with photographs of his dead wife. Archie (Freeman), having just survived a stroke, is treated like a child by his over-protective son. Sam (Kline) mourns the dimming of his much-vaunted “inner spark,” failing to appreciate his cushy Florida retirement and loving marriage. And when the fourth member of their crew, millionaire arrested-development case Billy (Douglas), decides to get married to a much younger woman, they all figure that their collective man-mojo may best be revived by a bachelor party in the city where hope goes to die.
Despite its obvious comparisons to The Hangover, Last Vegas possesses none of that film’s distinctive aesthetic or scattered moments of subversion, and the appearance of Jerry Ferrara as the senior wolfpack’s hapless fixer only cements the realization that what it resembles more than anything else is late-period Entourage. It’s flat and workmanlike in its visual technique, toothless in its juvenile attempts at transgression, and leans heavily on the appeal of famous faces to make its regurgitation of smugly phallocentric humor a little more palatable. De Niro, Freeman, and Douglas phone in versions of characters—or, rather, shticks—they’ve been trotting out for years, but Kline is lively enough, his enduring charm undimmed by the cringe-worthy dialogue he’s forced to deliver, and Mary Steenburgen is luminous in an underwritten role that sets her up as the shiny object that rekindles past tensions between Paddy and Billy.
Last Vegas is depressing, sub-sitcom fodder that will dull whatever affection you may still harbor for these legendary actors. What legitimate dramatic potential remains in the oft-told story of old men seeking to recapture their lost joie de vivre in the face of encroaching mortality is repackaged into pat, easy lessons about appreciating what you have and seizing the day. This mawkish Hallmark wisdom is cloaked in a glittering aura of hedonism clearly intended to attract younger audiences, offering up the clichéd pop-cultural conception of Vegas as an onanistic post-pubescent fantasy of sex, drugs, and freedom where anyone can score a beautiful young date if they “ask instead of tell.” Women—idealized or otherwise—are little more than pawns to be moved around in a world where loyalty to one’s friends is the only ethical consideration. The film’s entire philosophy can be summed up in a scene where Sam, about to have sex with a nubile young woman, realizes that he loves his wife and can’t go through with the indiscretion after all. The girl’s eyes shine with new-found respect for the exemplary moral code of this old married man with his pants around his ankles and his condom ready for deployment. Not content with leaving this already distasteful sequence where it is, screenwriter Dan Fogelman adds insult to injury with a final one-liner for Kline: “Can I get a blowjob instead?” Boys will be boys!