Recapturing youth in “Last Vegas”

“Last Vegas” can be considered the aging baby boomer version of “The Hangover” movies. It is certainly not as outrageous as those wild adventures, but “Last Vegas” is a sometimes funny, sometimes touching movie that will appeal to an older audience.

What “Last Vegas” can boast is that its cast is proven, as the five lead roles are played by actors who have won Academy Awards. This distinguished group includes Michael Douglas (“Wall Street”), Robert DeNiro (“The Godfather Part 2” and “Raging Bull”), Kevin Kline (“A Fish Called Wanda”), Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”) and Mary Steenburgen (“Melvin and Howard”).

The script was written by Dan Fogelman, whose previews screenplay experience includes animated features “Cars” and “Cars 2,” along with “Tangled” and “Bolt.” So it is no surprise that the story Fogelman weaves is a simple one, as four lifelong friends reunite for a trip to Las Vegas, where one of the group is getting married for the first time.

The movie begins with a flashback as the four friends, on the cusp of the teen years in Brooklyn, are shown in typical youthful rowdiness, which culminates with the theft of a bottle of scotch from a store.

More than 50 years later, Billy (Douglas) is getting married to the much younger Lisa (Bre Blair), his first marriage. Tanned and still fairly trim, Billy is the member of the group still clinging to his long fading youth. Billy contacts two of his friends – Sam (Kline), a mild, happily married man, and Archie (Freeman), recovering from a mild stroke, reveling in being a grandfather while being held almost captive by an overprotective son, Ezra (Michael Ealy) – to invite them to Vegas for the wedding.

Sam and Archie are willing, but bring up the sensitive issue of Paddy (DeNiro), the fourth friend in the group, recently widowed, electing to live a reclusive life and who has had a falling out with Billy. Despite the ill feelings, Billy insists that Sam and Archie trick Paddy into making the Vegas trip. They do so by lying, saying Billy is not going to Sin City with them, which just gives Paddy an excuse to complain constantly about Billy’s selfishness.

When they arrive in Vegas, and Billy is there, Paddy grumpily agrees to tag along and celebrate Billy’s pending wedding, while continuing to harbor resentment of Billy for what he feels was emotional abandonment.

Much like 2011’s big hit “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Last Vegas” is the story of people past their prime receiving a chance to recapture some of their youth. It also covers familiar ground of old people who find themselves out of their element, mixing with younger people and feeling lost in the latest cultural moods, but who eventually not only blend in but provide to the younger crowd the benefits of years of accumulated wisdom.

Some movies are blessed, and “Last Vegas” is one of them, with the appearance of a secondary character that adds a magical touch to the proceedings. In the case of “Vegas,” that character is Diana Boyle (Steenburgen),  a lawyer-turned-lounge singer who befriends the four friends. Though far from being a headliner in Vegas, Diana possesses great perspective on her singing efforts, and is wise and can be blunt (“You’re not as charming as you think you are,” she informs Billy). She is smart and cute and each time she is on screen, she adds a infectious touch of a person initially on the perimeter of the group but who is very aware of what is going on. With time, she would fit in very comfortably with these four guys.

“Last Vegas” takes a predictable path, but one that can guarantee being an audience pleaser. It is also a chance to observe proven veteran performers interact in believable ways.

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