Last Vegas (PG-13)

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In Last Vegas, journeyman director Jon Turteltaub has demonstrated once again his ineffable knack for tapping into the middlebrow sensibility. Here, as in his unadventurous adventure films with Nicolas Cage, his safe combination of A list actors with B list material lulls the audience into the blissfully false impression that the picture they are watching is more of an event than could have been enjoyed in made-for-tv format at half the cost.

Last Vegas tells the story of four male friends who visit Sin City for a bachelor party and everything else that necessarily attends the story of four male friends who visit Sin City for a bachelor party. Naturally, as Turteltaub has tempted four septigenarian Oscar winners to appear in this film, he has to give them something to do which the cast of “The Hangover” couldn’t. Hence, the script suffers from a number of unwelcome mood swings of the kind that always spells the death of an otherwise properly thoughtless buddies comedy. The problems (age, mourning, dull marriage) given to the characters to deal with cut across an otherwise festive picture like a funeral procession intersecting the Macy’s Parade. Most of the “problem” material goes to Douglas and DeNiro, who spends the film glowering. Non-dramatic screenplays do not suit DeNiro (a naturally reserved performer), yet some indeterminate notion or other has led him time and again over the past decade to one screwball movie after another, in spite of the the fact that he never appears comfortable trying to provoke a laugh, or for that matter, perform one.

If all of the principal players seem to be slumming, Freeman and Kline are at least not too self conscious about it, and are decent enough not to grimace all the way to the bank. Kline’s impeccable sense of timing raises the film’s fairly predictable one-liners a notch or two above their natural level, and Freeman brings to the proceedings a welcome exuberance, perhaps a result of being here set free from the long succession of grey eminence roles in which the suits have evidently decided that he should  ride into his career’s sunset.

Very few major comedies released this year have seemed to be the products of anything more than industrial habit, and Last Vegas is not an exception in any true sense. It should be offered in the film’s defense that it is not doomed from the opening credits, and that some of the give-and-take, particularly between Kline and Freeman, deserves at least to be in a more consistent picture. Turteltaub’s strengths and weaknesses as a director are plainly in the open here; he knows how to dress up a mediocre body of a script just neatly enough to elicit a few laughs from his audience without ever banishing from us the suspicion that we have seen all his films before and, saps that we are, will pay to see them again. Next to the undertaker’s, Turteltaub’s job security is about as unassailable as it gets. Rumors of an upcoming sequel are already stirring.

Thomas Banks

Thomas Banks grew up in Idaho and currently teaches literature and Latin in Bozeman, Montana. He collects books and eccentric novelty neckties and enjoys the company of friends and family, all very nice, and his students, most of whom are also very nice. His ambition to have an adjective named after himself is as yet unrealized.

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