The opening scene in “Last Vegas” is downright bad. The child actors sound like they memorized the lines 10 minutes before the shoot, the dialogue's bad and the whole scenario is rather implausible.
The scene left a bad taste in my mouth.
Many movies never recover from a scene I later called a “dumbed-down version of the ‘Half Baked' opening.” Most films that start off this bad only get worse, but it only took “Vegas” a couple minutes — and a great scene with Morgan Freeman — to win my interest back.
The film would have won it back sooner or later, to be sure, because “Last Vegas” is a smart, silly comedy with surprising, refreshing depth. It's also an odd and quirky film that takes a lot of chances and several unexpected turns.
Director John Turteltaub (“National Treasure”) and writer Dan Fogelman (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”) show a keen understanding of the formulas we've come to expect. They create big laughs by playing into the formulas: both plot lines and individual scenes move in the direction you expect them to; but right when you think you see precisely where it's going, it takes an interesting turn.
While the film has a ton of very good jokes, that's only the recipe for a good comedy. “Last Vegas” rises above this level thanks, in most part, to its likable and relatable characters.
The film follows four lifelong friends who head to Vegas to throw a bachelor party for successful businessman Billy (Michael Douglas), who is about to turn his 30-year-old trophy girlfriend into his trophy wife.
Billy's three best friends join him in Vegas: Archie (Freeman), whose overprotective son is draining the joy from his life; Sam (Kevin Kline), who is finding life in a Florida retirement home quite joyless; and Paddy (Robert DeNiro), a bluntly honest widower who doesn't appear to have smiled in the year since his wife's death.
The group has great chemistry and a very natural comic timing. They felt more like a tight-knit television cast than four actors who have never all worked together before. They're very different characters that have obviously lived very different lives since their childhood. Each one is handling the onset of old age, and the problems it presents, in different ways.
It feels very real to life, and I couldn't help but like these characters. By the time the good times started rolling in Las Vegas I was no longer thinking about the filmmaking techniques or upcoming plot developments. I was happily along for the ride, laughing frequently as this odd group's odd adventure continued to take hilariously odd turns.
I found DeNiro's performance particularly effective. His co-stars all play for laughs (and play the kind of characters we've seen them play before). DeNiro plays Paddy serious and somber, presenting a man who is perpetually sad. He doesn't smile so much as he stops frowning. While he is probably kind of a buzz kill, he's also the much-needed voice of reason delivering the brutal honesty his friends frequently need to hear.
There's a nice balance of serious and stupid in “Last Vegas” that's hard to find. If too serious, no one laughs (bad for a comedy); if too stupid, no one cares about or respects the characters. “Vegas” finds the magical balance that makes the whole thing feel effortless.
I laughed throughout the film (well, after the awful opening scene) and left the theater delighted. It's not a perfect film and I'm sure I could find small things to nitpick about, but it seems pointless.
Any comedy that makes me laugh and feel delighted has done exactly what a comedy is supposed to do.
“Last Vegas” is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.