(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)
In the first conference call between old time friends, Billy (Michael Douglas) refers to Sam (Kevin Kline) as “bionic man”. It’s just a simple reference to Sam’s failing limbs and bones that have been replaced by electromechanical parts. While this may apply for Sam alone in the story, it is equally applicable to every character (or actor) too. Last Vegas, about a bunch of childhood friends throwing a bachelor party for their last remaining single member is an old age home that is cool, fun and devoid of rules. While it is not fun throughout its run, it is nice to see some old superstars in the sunset of their careers share a laugh or two. Actually many more.
The first hour of the film is loaded with delicious one liners. These men – men we’ve seen as gangsters, political leaders, prisoners, gods, family men, wall street moguls – both as actors and characters arrive only with their physical baggage to Las Vegas. Everything else is off the way Sam keeps mentioning to everyone who’d care to listen or not listen that he’s got stray order from his wife holding up a condom and a Viagra pill. Every film needs a bit of tension and here it is provided by a shared love story between Billy and Paddy (Robert De Niro). It’s something that happened 50 years ago but history repeats itself as Diana (Mary Steenburgen) sings her way into their lives. This scene is quite delightful from start to finish. It’s a fine visual metaphor for the men that Billy and Paddy are. Billy the suave, young at heart businessman walks to the front of the stage like he owns the room while Paddy who had excused himself earlier watches her from behind a partition. The Billy take downs for his marrying a woman half his age are neatly done and never get old. The veteran having most fun is Archie – Morgan Freeman in a free spirit role – winning handsomely in Blackjack, using his heart patient status to his advantage whenever possible, dancing his way into everyone’s heart. The ways he tricks his son and family to make this trip are hilarious and the best line from the film is one such excuse when his son wonders on phone why there is so much noise in a church retreat, “The holy spirit is getting into everybody.” If that’s not a loaded line in Las Vegas, I don’t know what is.
This is all well and good until things take a serious turn. Even the casual wooing of Diana by Billy and Paddy becomes a bit much, mostly salvaged by Mary Steenburgen’s charming presence and disarming flirtations. The film falls on all fours three quarters in and thereafter it is a slow and excruciating crawl to a predictable finish. This wouldn’t have been half as good without the superstars in the cast but how much can they do to lift a film that is already in life support? They go in search of Medicare when pulling the plug is the only option.