On our Mana'o Radio show, "What's Playing," last week, Kathy Collins observed that the titles of the weekend's new movies might have gotten reversed. The one starring Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline should have been called "Enders' Game" instead of "Last Vegas."
Watching this likable if formulaic Jon Turtletaub-directed comedy, you keep waiting for the joke about the old coot whose friends get him a special gift for his 70th birthday. When he answers a knock at his apartment door, there's a lingerie-clad woman who announces, "Your friends sent me over for super sex."
"I'll take the soup," says the birthday boy.
The movie tells of the "Flatbush four," inseparable pals when they were kids in Brooklyn, who fly to Vegas a half-century later to throw a bachelor party for Douglas' character on the eve of his wedding to a bride half his age.
You can see the jokes about cradle robbing, Viagra and prostate cancer coming before you even buy your ticket. After the box-office jackpot of "The Hangover" underwent a successful gender change in "Bridesmaids," this is the AARP version.
While it required at least one Oscar to be cast in a leading role, "Last Vegas" isn't about acting so much as branding. De Niro is leading the way here, having moved on from the awesome, frightening intensity of his early career for funny, Focker-flavored caricatures of himself in the second act. He'll soon wobble into the boxing ring with Sylvester Stallone in "Grudge Match," vying for the Rocky of Ages crown.
Freeman seems to be topping off his stellar filmography with a retirement-income "Bucket List" franchise, while Douglas has played out his own delayed midlife crises - like his character's on-screen - for real on supermarket tabloid covers. Kline rounds out the geriatric quartet as the horny Florida retiree given "permission" from his wife for a wild Vegas weekend.
While the screenplay feels written on a telegraph key, the movie is less painful than you might expect. Even when they're phoning it in, the stars manage to turn the endless cliches into the occasional lovable moment. Audience members who qualify for the senior ticket discount may even find themselves laughing out loud now and then.
While a quartet of iconic stars grappling with tired testosterone is the selling point for "Last Vegas," the movie's real star turns out to be Mary Steenburgen, an Oscar winner herself. She plays a former single-mom attorney reinventing herself as a chanteuse in a casino lounge.
Although the joint is usually empty, our guys take notice - and so does the audience. Looking better than ever and even singing (who knew?), it's one of her most appealing performances in her long career of them.
In his moment of truth in the movie, Douglas gives one of those "where does the time go?" speeches.
It reminded me of an assignment I got in the late '70s when I was a young entertainment reporter with the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It was a press tour of San Francisco's Golden Gate Theater. The theater had begun as a vaudeville palace in the 1920s but had fallen on lean times in the city's seedy Tenderloin district. Now it was being renovated to accommodate lavish Broadway productions.
Also on the tour was a reporter from the Santa Clara Valley, probably in her 60s or 70s at the time. We struck up a conversation and she told me she remembered coming to the Golden Gate as a young teen. Her eyes lit up as she spoke. Inside, she said, she still thought she was that young girl.
I looked at her blue hair. I liked her in a grandmotherly sort of way, but I didn't have a clue what she was talking about.
Now I know exactly. A lot of us do.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org