8 January 2014


If the Hangover sequels were half as clever and funny as Todd Phillips thought they were, they probably should have waited until Bradley Cooper and company were in their 60s before making a sequel. Last Vegas captures everything that The Hangover had, and everything which Part II and Part III lacked, in spades, by casting a bunch of acting legends as four childhood friends who go on a bachelor party in the autumn of their lives.

Billy, the leader of their gang, is getting married to a woman who's less than half his age, and buddies Archie and Sam insist that he joins them for their standard stag weekend in Las Vegas. He accepts, and even Paddy- who fell out with Billy some time ago, for entirely understandable reasons- comes along for the ride. As Archie makes the most of his time away from an overprotective son, and Sam finds his mojo revitalised when his wife gives him permission to go on the pull, Billy tries to bury the hatchet with Paddy, and all four of them find themselves addressing unresolved tensions in their lives.

As I've said, Phillips' wolf pack sequels are so bad as to make the first film look like an accident in retrospect, but The Hangover did have its charms. Aside from the cock-eyed mystery story, there was actual camaraderie between the three leads, before they all got their worst traits Flanderised in the follow-ups. Unlike those sequels, Last Vegas comes at the concept of a wild weekend in Vegas from a character point of view, rather than stacking up surreal high-concept setpieces.
It's not hard to imagine another version of this film, featuring stars who are better known for their comedy films, like Robin Williams or Steve Martin. Hell, in the wrong hands, this could easily have turned into Grown Ups: The Last Generation. But the more unexpected casting is the first good sign- this is a film that serves to remind us that Kevin Kline is pretty damn funny, as his Sam gets all of the funniest lines; that Morgan Freeman started out doing sketch comedy on The Electric Company, before he became the voice of all things wise; and that both a perma-tanned Michael Douglas and a grumpier-than-usual Robert De Niro have comic chops too, when given the right material.

It's not uproariously funny, but it captures that good sense of humour, without being either vulgar or corny, pretty well. For one thing, the jokes are seldom at the expense of old people- if anything, I counted more jibes about young people- and the ribbing between the four leads helps to build a believable and endearing rapport between the characters, really fleshing out their relationship. Mary Steenburgen's character works well within that dynamic too, inadvertently inflaming the rivalry between Billy and Paddy even further by getting along so well with each of them.

At its weakest, Dan Fogelman's (see also: Crazy, Stupid, Love) script gives in to impulses like a swimsuit contest that the four codgers buy their way into judging, ending with a cameo appearance by LMFAO's DJ Redfoo, who thrusts his crotch into De Niro's face. It seems like such a tokenistic "for the kids" scene, and it speaks to how poorly De Niro's recent career has been, that Redfoo-thrusting doesn't even seem like a low point for him. It's far better, and funnier, in its more mischievous moments than in its big party scenes, but the performances carry it through, without either gurning or playing it aloof.

Last Vegas is hardly laugh-riot, comedy of the year material, but it plays as a mature, modest and mostly quite witty comedy, featuring characters who give their older actors more opportunities to have fun with the audience than they have had in a long time. At the same time as you can see what specifically attracted Douglas and De Niro to their characters, Freeman and Kline are in their element, holding up the more comedic end. It's the sense of warmth that wins through here, even if it doesn't take any meaningful risks, and it all comes as a pleasant, if not earth-shaking surprise.

Last Vegas is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Last Vegas, why not share your comments below? I'm as surprised as anyone that director Jon Turteltaub is talking about a sequel to this one. C'mon, Jon- didn't you say all you needed to say first time around?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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