It doesn’t take long for "Last Vegas" to reveal its hand. The picture, which follows four of our most famous old-fogey actors through a sloppy, weekend-long bachelor party in the city of sin, opens up with a ’50s-set flashback that establishes the crew as lifelong friends.
We see the pint-sized versions of Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline clowning around in a corner shop, quickly vanquishing a leather-jacket-clad bully. It’s like watching "Scary Movie" taking on "Happy Days:" The energy is so flat, the sets and dialogue so unconvincing, and the gags so unfunny, it feels as if the film has given up before it’s even begun. This isn’t a comedy, it’s a victory lap for four actors too old, too successful, and too contented to worry about the fact that their work is devoid of entertainment value.
We catch up with the four following the opening credits, and the film jumps headfirst into its never-ending series of geriatric jokes. Kline is in a Florida vacation home surrounded by flabby flesh and age-appropriate women, Douglas is still chasing 30-something skirts, Freeman’s been grounded by his son following a stroke, and De Niro, a widower, is permanently attached to his recliner and permanently dressed in his bathrobe. Douglas’ upcoming nuptials -- he proposes to a 32-year-old in the middle of a eulogy he’s giving for an old friend -- gives the team an excuse to meet back up and re-live their glory days surrounded by strippers and slot machines.
The payoff to that is exactly what you’d expect: 100 minutes of nonstop old-guy wish fulfillment. Yes, there’s a barely-there subplot exploring a rift between De Niro and Douglas’ characters -- the former can’t forgive the latter for missing his late wife’s funeral -- but the movie’s main focus is on lifestyle masturbation. We watch the crew get drunk, make friends, and conquer their not-really-threatening demons with an absolute minimum of dramatic pushback. It’s all texture, nothing but big boobs and broad jokes designed to keep audiences feeling as tranquil as possible.
At one point, Redfoo of LMFAO shows up, hosting a bikini contest, and asks the team of stars to judge. What’s the payoff? There is no payoff. Director Jon Turtletaub just wants to fill some time by putting some D-list celebrities and more breasts on screen. The narrative stakes here are so thin, the cinematic ambition so non-existent, and the off-color jokes so safe; you begin to feel like "Last Vegas" was designed expressly to be played in the background of your home via cable TV while you do something more important.
The picture takes place in a heightened comic universe. The wish-fulfillment extends so far that Kline’s wife slips him a condom and Viagra before the trip and encourages him to cheat on her (it’s basically science fiction.) Yet the divorced-from-reality texture never allows for inspired gags or out-there performances: It’s simply used to help prevent the film from ever depicting moments of truth or conflict. The closest thing we get to an antagonist is Jerry Ferrara’s quick-tempered pseudo-hipster character, and even he’s quickly tricked into becoming an assistant and friend to the men within a matter of scenes.
Somehow, even Mary Steenburgen’s high-energy turn as a witty woman who rekindles the competitive streak between De Niro and Douglas fails to liven things up. She’s left a conduit, not a character, nothing more than MacGuffin intended to drive these men toward a rote, everybody-gets-what-they-want climax. This is cinema as a time-killer; Turtletaub deftly avoids any topics or prospects that may make audiences feel tense, uncomfortable, or any emotion other than contented relaxation. He’s so single-mindedly focused on making a good-natured film that the jokes and the drama have been rendered an unfortunate afterthought. He’s gone beyond feel-good: This is cinema as an anesthetic.