“Last Vegas” is exactly what everyone expects it to be going in. As the Metamucil/Flomax version of “The Hangover,” it boasts a first-rate wall-to-wall TV sitcom crackle rather than “Can you top this?” raunch.
Sure, it’s crude. And it gets a wee bit lost in sentiment. But no one in the audience will be tempted to retch. It’s what you do when you gather a bunch of lovable Oscar winners on the senior tour, as well as a delightful 60-year-old actress (Mary Steenburgen) who’s decided in her maturity to be a jazz singer.
And she is too – not so good that everyone seeing the film will have that head-slapping “Who knew?” reaction that came with seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones sing and hoof her Welsh heart out in “Chicago.” But she is more than good enough to play a lounge singer in a crummy Las Vegas casino who isn’t surprised to perform before an audience of two – both of them comped by management.
To get real here, it’s hard to imagine “Last Vegas” not being a minor gold mine for older moviegoers in search of sure-thing entertainment at the multiplex. It’s a movie about the low comedy of old age that is one of life’s better-kept secrets – everything from the self-styled sexagenarian stud with a girlfriend half his age (“She’s 32,” he protests. “I’ve got a hemorrhoid that’s 32,” snaps one of his oldest friends) and hair dyed a color not known in nature (“What color is that?” chide his buddies, “Hazelnut?”) to the sourpuss widower alone for the first time in his life with little but his grudges to keep him warm at night.
The writer of the movie is the fellow who created TV’s “The Neighbors.” The director is Jon Turtletaub, not only a movie and TV veteran but the son of TV vet Saul Turtletaub.
This is sentimental comedy spritz as the family business – equal parts unambitious and foolproof, so that the old boys can have their formulaic fun.
Once upon a time, as kids back in Brooklyn, they called themselves the Flatbush Four. Now it’s 58 years later. Billy (Michael Douglas) – never married and still, as David Letterman might put it, “gettin’ it done” – is the one getting married to his lovely trophy girlfriend.
Robert De Niro is his sourpuss old widower buddy. Morgan Freeman is the grandfather deflecting an oversolicitous son who understandably worries about Dad’s recent minor stroke. And Kevin Kline is Sam, the would-be player whose wife gives him a condom for the trip, a little blue pill and the written slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” (A nubile young girl asks him, “Are you good in bed, Sam?” He answers “I can’t remember.”)
What happens in Vegas is the PG-13 sitcom version of an orgy, complete with dignified cross-dressers, even more amiable hotel employees and all sorts of babes in bikins who act as if feminism never happened (and, in the eternal ’50s of older TV sitcom writers, feminism never did happen outside of punch lines).
“Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1959,” say the boys.
And they do. Which means no harm no foul at the close, only a young woman cast aside for the sin of being 32 and beautiful and a couple of old friends clearing up the single “issue” that kept them frenemies for 58 years.
Astute movie-watchers will point out that this “Flatbush Four” covers a decade in ages, from Morgan Freeman’s birthday in 1937 to Kevin Kline’s birthday in 1947.
But in the eternity of 1959, they’re all the same age and so is the audience that left home to see a movie that’s like four good sitcoms back to back performed by people who wouldn’t dream of tying themselves down to the real thing.
Ultra-professional show business. In others words, tears, laughs and, no doubt, box office and the possibility of a sequel if all involved enjoyed themselves.
And if one or more needs the money.