- - Thursday, October 31, 2013

A star-studded comedy about childhood friends reconnecting as septuagenarians, “Last Vegas” makes for breezy, heartwarming viewing.

A demographically driven film designed to appeal to aging baby boomers, “Last Vegas” is a new take on the “Hangover” franchise, with retirees hitting the party scene with a determination not to go gentle into that good night. There is not much more to it than that, but the featherweight story gains heft from solid performances by Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline.

The quartet were close friends in Brooklyn growing up, calling themselves the “Flatbush Four.” They have stayed in touch, but a rift has emerged between the crotchety, recently widowed Paddy (Mr. De Niro) and playboy bachelor Billy (Mr. Douglas). When Billy gets engaged to his 30-something girlfriend, the old friends plan a bachelor party in Vegas.

Each of the pals has something special to prove. Archie (Mr. Freeman) wants to break out of the quiet existence he has lived since suffering a stroke. Sam (Mr. Kline) is stuck in a rut in his marriage and gets special dispensation (and a few pharmaceutical accessories) from his wife to have a weekend affair. But the real action is the unfinished business between Paddy and Billy. The two fell out after Billy didn’t attend the funeral of Paddy’s wife, Sophie, a year before the events of “Last Vegas.” It emerges that the two were rivals for Sophie’s affection, and Billy never got his affection for her out of his system.

If this sounds a little heavy, the movie is made up mostly of sight gags and goofy set pieces that extract comedy from old folks doing funny stuff. The four stars finagle their way into judging a raunchy bikini contest, dancing in an elite club and hosting wild parties. The trick that makes it mostly work is that the actors never quite descend to the level of the material.

Mr. Kline uses his gifts as a physical comedian in a narrow range of motion to great effect. Mr. Freeman is able to play off the dignity usually built into his film characters to give a little gravitas to the schlub Archie. Mr. De Niro, who has turned in some subpar performances in ensemble films over the years, raises his game here, perhaps because of the quality of his co-stars. Mr. Douglas is on the safest ground, playing a version of the confident type-A personality that defines his roles throughout his career.

The wild card in the film is Mary Steenburgen as Diana, a 60-something former lawyer who reinvented herself as a lounge singer after losing her job. Paddy and Billy are both drawn to her, reactivating their old rivalry. She brings an earthy bluntness to the role, adding emotional depth to a film that, despite its cast of senior citizens, operates at the level of a teen comedy.

★★½

TITLE: “Last Vegas”

CREDITS: Directed by Jon Turteltaub, written by Dan Fogelman

RATING: PG-13 for bawdy sexual innuendo, binge drinking

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS