Review: Last Vegas (2014)

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Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenwriter: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Mary Steenburgen, Jerry Ferrara, Romany Malco & Joanna Gleason
Runtime: 105 min // Certificate: 12a

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOjOE6hIsOw]

Like a comedy version of The Expendables, with all the wrinkles, embarrassment and general lack of humour that such a monstrosity entails, Last Vegas is a bit like the cinematic equivalent of a cancer-ridden old man begging to be relieved of his agony by a bunch of people – in this case, the audience – who have long given up on him, but keep him alive for the sake of nostalgia and a misplaced belief that his health might yet improve.

Just look at that cast list and tell me you don’t already know what it’s going to be like. Whenever I see the names Robert De Niro or Morgan Freeman on a film poster these days I cringe, knowing full well that they haven’t bothered to put in a decent performance in well over a decade. Part of me always hopes and prays that this might be the one to rekindle the spark of their heyday, but deep down I know I’m flogging a dead donkey. Throw Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline – two once-great actors who also haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory in recent years (though Douglas does get a small reprieve for his excellent performance in Behind the Candelabra) – and I can practically feel my insides cringing in preparation for how atrocious it’s likely to be. Oh guys… where did it all go wrong?

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Well. Ok, let’s be fair; all of these guys have done worse things – some much worse – in the past, and though Last Vegas is an embarrassing and only mildly amusing film, it’s not the complete clusterfuck I was expecting. Alas, it’s still pretty damn bad. The plot arouses a “Hangover for the post-war generation” vibe (though is admittedly much less crude and detestable than that particular film), involving as it does three lifelong friends descending on Vegas for the stag do of the fourth member of their group – Billy (Douglas) – who, despite being of pensionable age, is planning to marry his 31-year-old girlfriend. While there, the four men make an attempt to recapture their youth, make up for past mistakes, and discover what it is they want from life after all these years.

Last Vegas hinges, rightly or wrongly, on the bankability of its cast. Were it not for the audience’s natural affection for all four men, this project would never have gotten off the ground in the first place, and it plays on that affection and recognition to reasonable effect. Jokes about De Niro’s gangster connections litter the piece, while the four men spend much of the film wooing women half their age, drinking to excess and living the life the audience likes to imagine they lead every day. It’s all tame and harmless, which is both a blessing and a curse as it means it’s watchable but pretty tepid in terms of humour, though the four men do appear to be having quite a lot of fun, which I guess is nice to see. Mary Steenburgen (Back to the Future Part III) grounds the film in some sort of reality and gives us the film’s only half-decent character, while a couple of select cameos are humorous enough in their own way so yeah, it’s not a total disaster.

Nonetheless, Last Vegas is still a dud. It isn’t emotional enough to work as a “coming-of-old-age” drama, nor is it funny enough to class as a comedy in its own right. It’s sweet, inoffensive and mildly entertaining, but with such a strong cast at the helm I still, even after so many disappointments over the last ten years, wanted so much more from it. It’s passable, sure, and I don’t doubt for a second that it’ll help De Niro pay his bills for another few months but come on guys… you’re all far, far better than this. Give us what we want, not this second-rate tat.

½

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