A quartet of venerable Hollywood greats come together to play supposed lifelong friends staging one last hurrah in Jon Turteltaub’s much delayed comedy Last Vegas (2013). Surely a modicum of enjoyment is there to be derived from this admittedly lightweight premise, particularly when the foursome in question consists of heavyweights Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, together in the same film for the very first time? Alas, Last Vegas quickly reveals itself to be an entirely charmless, deadening experience, lacking any real spark whilst failing to capitalise on its distinguished ensemble.
In a Stand By Me-lite pre-credit intro, we find that Billy, Paddy, Archie, and Sam have been best friends since childhood. Cut to 50-odd years later and Billy (Douglas), a permatan lothario with a soon-be-to trophy wife, arranges for his three buddies to join him in Vegas to celebrate his upcoming nuptials. Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kline) are eager to attend, but Paddy (De Niro) – a crotchety, still-grieving widow who has taken to living as a recluse – requires a little more encouragement. Arriving in Las Vegas, the friends do their best to get in the spirit of things, despite past issues bubbling up – especially between Billy and Paddy – when they both become acquainted with a friendly lounge singer (played by Mary Steenburgen).
What starts off as a marginally fun little jaunt (we’re introduced to the character’s physical limitations via some humorous vignettes) loses all of its appeal as soon as the action shifts to Billy’s holiday destination. Turteltaub directs with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and as a commentary on growing old Last Vegas is a piece of fantasy work up there with the his lamentable National Treasure films. Most remarkable of all, Turteltaub somehow manages to completely waste the talents of the A-listers he’s brought on board. Douglas’ tearfully redemptive scene towards the end of proceedings couldn’t be more artificial if he’d been replaced by a CGI version of himself.
In attempting to cater for the broadest possible audience, Turteltaub’s ‘comedy’ has barely a trace of pathos expect for one brief, heartbreaking scene involving De Niro – his once majestic screen presence is glimpsed once more, but all too fleetingly. It’s truly a touching moment and highlights what perhaps could have been had the material been worthy of the talent. Last Vegas represents an inexcusable missed opportunity. The filmmakers have clearly misunderstood the definition of a ‘crowdpleaser’, under the impression that having four star actors shamelessly mug for the camera via a cliché-leaden script is enough to pull in the crowds.