From a distance, “Last Vegas” looked like something not worth seeing, sentimental, not very funny, glossing over the real issues surrounding the shift into old age ... but no. “Last Vegas” is an entertaining movie with a lot of integrity, and it gives all of its actors — all heavyweights and Oscar winners — real moments to dig in and play something.
It’s the story of four childhood friends who’ve fanned out to different parts of the country but remain in touch. All are facing 70 and are reacting in different ways. Billy (Michael Douglas), who has become wealthy, is about to end his long bachelorhood by marrying a 30-year-old woman. Paddy (De Niro) is recovering from the death of his wife and can barely get out of his bathrobe. Archie (Morgan Freeman), having had a mild stroke, has to overcome his fear and resume life. And Sam (Kevin Kline) has lost his zest and can’t shake a mild depression.
The friends reunite in Vegas for Billy’s bachelor party, and the story takes place over the course of a couple of days. Paddy has a grievance against Billy: Though they’re supposed to be best friends, Billy didn’t come to Paddy’s wife’s funeral. As is typical of the movie’s honest willingness to present unpleasant emotions in a comedy, there is nothing funny about Paddy’s anger. He is as nasty as Robert De Niro can be.
Meanwhile, Sam is walking around with a condom and a little blue pill burning a hole in his pocket — gifts from his wife (Joanna Gleason), under the old clause in the marriage contract that says what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Anything to bring him back to life. As Sam, Kline brings up the laugh quotient, in a subplot that lands perfectly.
Mary Steenburgen plays a former professional woman pursuing her dream as a singer, and she becomes the romantic interest of two of the men. That a 60-year-old actress can be cast in a romantic role is a welcome sign in a Hollywood movie — usually they cast a 45-year-old and take it for granted that a woman should be interested in men old enough to be her father. But it’s even better that Steenburgen is so convincing in the role, as in feminine and desirable and totally believable as someone men would be fighting over. Movies like this usually have subtitles.
The comedy remains a presence throughout, but “Last Vegas” has a serious purpose, and the resolution of the men’s journey of realization is anything but corny. Maybe there are just too many viewers out there thinking about these things, people either baby boomer age or older, and so movies can’t lie anymore. In any case, the climactic scene, as played by Douglas, is as heartfelt as anything he has ever done.