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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Last Vegas' a surprising good, light, funny comedy

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From left, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline stars in “Last Vegas.” (CBS Films)

Last Vegas

(PG-13)

3 out of 4 stars

Succeeding mostly because of the presence of no less than five Oscar-winners, “Last Vegas” has been billed as “The Hangover” for the AARP crowd — which is easy to understand based on the somewhat misleading trailers. Marketed as a whacky, geriatric buddy romp, it is deeper than it looks on first glance, but not much deeper. If for no other reason, it is recommendable for all ages because it is unpretentious, honest and never tries to be more than a disarming light comedy.

Let’s get real here; at this point in their collective advanced careers, Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Mary Steenburgen aren’t exactly near the top of any filmmaker’s short list for anything substantial. Whether for good or bad, they’re all now “character” actors; added for texture playing seniors. This isn’t an insult; it’s just a fact of Hollywood life. They’re all highly qualified, talented performers and they all make the most of their respective, somewhat thinly written roles.

After a brief yet highly effective opening scene set in Brooklyn in the ’50s when the four co-male lead characters were teens, the narrative moves up to the modern day when the last unmarried member of the group (Douglas as Billy) informs Sam (Kline) and Archie (Freeman) that he’s going to marry a woman in her 30s. Banking on a lifetime of friendship, Billy calls on Sam and Archie to figure out some way to get Paddy (De Niro) to come along, which will be a tough sell. It wasn’t so long ago that Billy slighted Paddy at time when his presence was most needed and the bad blood between them is thick.

As he has done well and not so well recently, De Niro assumes the role of crusty curmudgeon and wet blanket to an otherwise upbeat occasion and it is the weakest and most annoying part of the film. A little of an angry and slighted De Niro character goes a long way and the filmmakers focus their attention on this facet of the story for far longer than they should.

Realizing that a movie with just four over-70 guy characters would fizzle quick, screenwriter Dan Fogelman introduces Diana (Steenburgen), a divorced, empty-nest mom turned lounge singer who effortlessly charms the collective quartet and becomes an emollient of sorts between Billy and Paddy. With her calming soft eyes and silky demeanor, Diana starts out as pleasant diversion and eventually provides the story with its sole bit of mystery.

This is apropos territory for director Jon Turteltaub (“While You Were Sleeping,” the “National Treasure” franchise, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) who wisely recognizes that “Last Vegas” isn’t the kind of movie where you take a lot of chances and the few he and Fogelman take all hit their mark.

A great example occurs with Sam and a woman young enough to be his granddaughter. It starts out as something seedy, morphs into something tender and then ends with a ribald, out-of-left-field punch line that caught everybody at the packed preview screening off-guard. Another features Paddy and Billy’s bride-to-be late in the third act that goes very well but not in a way usually found in a comedy of this variety and could possible rub some viewers the wrong way.

It’s likely the movie won’t do huge business but will do well enough to warrant a sequel, which will probably come as good news for the five co-leads and provide a major shot in the arm for the fledgling CBS Films studio that has yet to release a feature film that has made a profit. (CBS Films)