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posted: 10/31/2013 6:00 AM

Steenburgen trumps quartet of aging stars in Sin City comedy

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  • Kevin Kline, left, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas play childhood buddies on the loose in Sin City in "Last Vegas."

      Kevin Kline, left, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas play childhood buddies on the loose in Sin City in "Last Vegas."

  • Video: "Last Vegas" trailer

 
 

"Have any drugs, man?" a sexy young woman asks aging senior citizen Archie.

"Does Lipitor count?" Archie replies.

Cue the Viagra jokes and comic references to replaced body parts and you've got the level of humor to be found in Jon Turteltaub's comic drama "Last Vegas."

Consider this film a terrestrial "Cocoon" meets "The Hangover" for the AARP demographic.

It stars some heavy-hitting talent: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman as childhood best buddies nicknamed the Flatbush Four. They grew up together, grew apart, and now reunite as elderly seniors for a trip to Sin City.

Billy, played by Douglas as a spray-tanned Lothario clinging to youthful self-delusion, has never married, a situation he intends to remedy by settling down with a 31-year-old hottie he proposes to while delivering a eulogy for a departed friend. (This miscalculated, tasteless and selfish act instantly sours us on Billy, and it takes several scenes for Douglas to charm us back into liking his character.)

To celebrate, stroke-survivor Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kline) commit to throwing a Vegas bachelor party for Billy. But Paddy (De Niro) refuses to come. Paddy can't forgive Billy for missing the funeral of his beloved wife, both men's childhood sweetheart.

Eventually, Paddy relents and the quartet arrives in Vegas ready for action. Especially Sam, whose wife has given him spousal dispensation to engage in as much illicit sex as he can muster.

(At the press screening for "Last Vegas," I asked a fellow film critic, "How long will it be before someone mistakes a transvestite for a hot woman?" The answer: about 90 seconds later.)

In short order, Sam befriends a parade of cross-dressers and Archie cleans out the blackjack table, thereby securing a personal concierge (Romany Malco) plus a posh penthouse for him and his pals at the Aria casino.

"Last Vegas" putters on low dramatic testosterone until the guys wander into a sparsely populated casino bar entertained by a sultry torch singer wearing a shimmering gown as comfortably as pajamas.

The singer, Diana, a former Atlanta tax attorney downsized by her firm, is played by Mary Steenburgen, who gives this movie an instant shot of adrenaline.

Luminous, funny, self-deprecating and appealingly self-confident, Steenburgen patently purloins the movie from her co-stars.

The actress, armed with smart, quippy lines by screenwriter Dan Fogelman, creates a fully dimensional woman of "a certain age" whose calm demeanor and reflective attitude underscore just how underserved the men's characters are here.

"You're not as charming as you think you are," Diana tells groom-to-be Billy. Boom! Is he suddenly smitten or what?

But wait. The reclusive Paddy is finally coming out of his self-imposed prison of personal loss by warming up to Diana as well. Could their history of two guys loving the same girl be repeating itself?

Turteltaub, who gave us the benignly inspired films "While You Were Sleeping" and "Phenomenon," directs "Last Vegas" with professional detachment, letting his powder keg cast members go through their bags of well-honed motions to play these unchallenging characters.

It doesn't help that CBS Films allowed the movie's two funniest sight gags to be ruined by including them in trailers and TV commercials.

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