As creaky as an arthritic hip, “Last Vegas” does for four leading stars of the ‘70s and ‘80s what movies like “Tough Guys” and “Grumpy Old Men” did for survivors of Hollywood’s storied Golden Age: It lets them show they can still throw a punch, bust a move, and get it up, and that they’re not quite ready for the Motion Picture Home just yet. Beyond that, this genteel “Hangover” for the AARP crowd has little to recommend it, though a smattering of funny gags and the nostalgia value of the cast — none of whom, curiously, have ever shared the screen before — keeps the whole thing more watchable than it has any right to be. Smartly counterprogrammed against fanboy behemoths “Ender’s Game” and “Thor: The Dark World,” this Nov. 1 CBS Films release could score nicely with its target demo but seems unlikely to match the $175 million worldwide haul of surprise 2007 hit “The Bucket List.”
One doesn’t exactly expect “Death in Venice” from a movie that begins on a shot of female cellulite jiggling beneath the surface of a Florida community pool. But as various senior-centric pics have proven, from Martin Brest’s delightful caper “Going in Style” to Ron Howard’s “Cocoon,” going gray isn’t automatically an impediment to a screenplay that consists of more than death and Viagra jokes, plus that other old reliable: alta cockers rendered helpless in the face of modern technology. But “Last Vegas” scribe Dan Fogelman (who wrote the monumentally smarter and shrewder “Crazy, Stupid, Love”) pretty much sticks to the lowest common denominator as he contrives to get four childhood friends together in Sin City for the bachelor party of the last unmarried man among them.
He’s named Billy and played by a blow-dried, spray-tanned Michael Douglas in what feels like a watered-down version of the actor’s magnificent aging lothario from 2009’s “Solitary Man” (along with his Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra,” the great performance of the second half of Douglas’ career). When Billy impulsively proposes to his strapping 31-year-old girlfriend (in the midst of delivering a friend’s eulogy, no less), best bud Sam (Kevin Kline) — the one trapped in that infernal Florida swimming pool — suggests a boy’s weekend in Vegas, and the rest of this white-haired wolf pack is soon to follow. Back when they were kids on the streets of Brooklyn, Billy and his pals were known as the Flatbush Four, though now they’re mainly just flat and bushed: In addition to Sam, there’s stroke survivor Archie (Morgan Freeman, essentially reprising his “Bucket List” character) and surly widower Paddy (Robert De Niro), who hasn’t forgiven Billy for skipping out on his wife’s funeral (she was their shared childhood sweetheart).
From all points they converge on the ultra-luxurious Aria casino resort, where they find themselves comped with a penthouse suite — and a personal concierge (Romany Malco) — after Archie cleans house at the blackjack table. That pretty much gives them the run of the place, though they do make one important side trip to nearby Binion’s, where Billy catches the eye of a jazz chanteuse shimmering in a sparkly mauve gown as she belts out “Only You” in a desolate hotel bar.
The singer, Diana (Mary Steenburgen), is also “of a certain age” and has been around the block a few times, but unlike her male counterparts in “Last Vegas,” she’s been written as more than a one-dimensional type, and she’s played by the marvelous Steenburgen with a richness that goes even beyond what’s on the page. She’s an oasis of real, grown-up emotion in a movie that often feels more sophomoric (and a lot less funny) than the concurrent “Bad Grandpa.” And though she’s supposed to be a former Atlanta tax attorney who got downsized and picked up a mic, Diana could just as easily be Steenburgen’s ebullient Lynda Dummar from “Melvin and Howard” a few decades on, hardened by experience, still looking for love in all the wrong places.
The rest of the movie rarely if ever rises to Steenburgen’s level. Most of the comic payoffs are so obviously telegraphed that the audience can see them coming within a few frames of the setup. (When Sam, who’s been given dispensation by his wife to cheat on her, sidles up to a tall blond stranger seen only from behind, what are the chances she’ll turn out to be a he?) Actors like these can sometimes be a pleasure to watch even when saddled with sitcom material, because their timing and delivery is still better than most. But in “Last Vegas,” everyone seems to be on a mildly diverting paid vacation, especially Freeman, who can scarcely disguise his contempt for the material. He doesn’t just seem to be phoning it in; he seems to be emailing it in from his trailer.
Director Jon Turteltaub keeps things clicking along with the impersonal professionalism honed during his years in the Disney/Touchstone feel-good factory (“Cool Runnings,” “Phenomenon,” “While You Were Sleeping”), with lots of TV-friendly close-ups and touristic Vegas exteriors that could easily be recycled as stock footage. The soundtrack offers the usual golden-oldies playlist (Freeman’s cell phone rings Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle”), save for Steenburgen’s lovely jazz repertoire, which includes a self-penned torch song fully befitting her character: “A Cup of Trouble.”