By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
If you find yourself smiling, chuckling and even guffawing at the antics of the four old pals who gather for a bachelor party, wedding and reunion in director Jon Turteltaub’s “Last Vegas,” you’re probably giving away your age. But don’t worry. To coin a phrase, what happens in “Last Vegas” stays in “Last Vegas.” Get used to it. Odds are good that before the Baby Boomers all go to that Woodstock in the sky there will be many an homage to their cluster.
Fact is, we’ve seen this formulaic stencil applied to several generations of golden agers, all inevitably proffering the same seriocomic message: Count your blessings. While hardly profound and generally predictable, Mr. Turteltaub’s permutation is respectably tendered…neither absurdly outlandish nor depressingly melancholic. Its prime attraction is in the likeability and familiarity of the stereotypes its principals fashion.
Opening with a note of nostalgia by exhibiting old black and white photos of the guys way back when, the first scene then quickly establishes the characters via a poignant confrontation with a local bully, circa 1959. The die is cast. They will forever be the Flatbush Four. But ah, when flash-forwarded to the present, we learn the fates certainly can be whimsical, if not necessarily cruel.
Robert De Niro’s Paddy, once the tough guy, is now the curmudgeon…perennially attired in bathrobe, holed up in his Brooklyn apartment, and forever fending off the good intentions of a soup bearing young lady who’d like to fix him up with her grandma. He is a year into being a widower and pretty much resigned to his self-inflicted pessimism.
Sam, portrayed by Kevin Kline and retired to Florida with his wife (Joanna Gleason), has taken to attending his own sort of pity party. A veteran in good standing of the musculoskeletal joint replacement wars, he is a commentator on all things gerontological, his specialty, the sixties. Surveying the senior citizen landscape, he issues a steady patter of cynical observations. Alas, the oomph has gone from his marriage.
Archie’s woes, on the other hand, emanate not from within, but via the overprotective son with whom he lives in a tony New Jersey suburb. Despite a mild stroke that has set all the red flags flying at the scene of his familial incarceration, the Air Force veteran portrayed with Morgan Freeman’s usual, avuncular geniality, is hot to trot when news comes of our 4th pal’s pending marriage.
Of course Billy’s choice of a bride, the cause célèbre of the plot, pretty much inks his character sketch. A wealthy mover and shaker now living in Malibu, this will be the sixty-eight-year-old Peter Pan’s first marriage. Smartly played by Michael Douglas, he defensively notes that the rather nice young lady is almost all of thirty-two.
Relating that detail to a sexy female celebrant at one point in the bacchanalian free-for-all that ensues once the party weekend builds up a head of steam engenders a response literally out of the mouth of a babe: “Ooh, you must be very rich.”
Hmm, there’s the rub, and you don’t need the Oracle of Delphi to surmise that we’re probably going to find out just what exactly has caused Billy’s irking form of arrested development. Psst…it’s also a key to the love-hate enmity he and Paddy share.
Serving as catalyst, mascot and mother confessor, Mary Steenburgen is endearingly swell as Diana, the retired tax attorney-turned-lounge singer who falls in with the boys. She is quickly smitten with their history. And wouldn’t you just know it, Billy and Paddy’s competitiveness is revived. All of which begs the question, who will get the gal this time?
Yes indeed, aside from the slight twist this subplot provides, you pretty much know what to expect from the affable crew. But while usually a detriment in storytelling, truth is you wouldn’t have their mutual epiphany delivered any other way.
Oh sure, the film’s currency would rise in value if writer Dan Fogelman (“Cars”) had managed to mine something truly novel about aging and enduring friendship. However, while younger audiences might not see the value in revisiting what they already know about their grandpa, those for whom this film is intended will more than likely be willing to forgo a little haute cinema in return for some warmhearted and knowing affirmation.
Whether Messrs. De Niro, Freeman, Douglas and Kline remind of the buddies you have or wish you had, it’s nice laughing both at and with them whilst appreciating yet one more wondrous passage in the bittersweet pageant of life. And despite the implied finality in the title’s play on words, should fortune provide for a “Last Vegas, Again” and it’s showing during the day not too far from the old age home, I look forward to reviewing it.
“Last Vegas,” rated PG-13, is a CBS Films release directed by Jon Turteltaub and stars Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline. Running time: 105 minutes