Greg Pritikin’s light buddy comedy “The Last Laugh” may share a title with the 1924 F.W. Murnau film, and while both films ponder existential questions, Pritikin’s movie isn’t nearly as bleak. The gentle romp brings together two beloved stars of the 1970s — Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss — as seniors on a road trip taking one last stab at stand-up comedy stardom. An exceedingly mild affair, “The Last Laugh” relies mightily on Dreyfuss’ warm charm to keep the journey rolling.
Chase plays Al Hart, a talent manager who will not go gently into that good night. Despite his granddaughter’s urging, he is reluctant to move into a senior community or to give up his beloved career. It’s not until he runs into one of his old comedian clients, Buddy Green (Dreyfuss), that he decides to give senior living a shot. Buddy was about to make it big on “The Tonight Show” at the beginning of his career when he decided to give up the mic for a comfortable life as a Beverly Hills podiatrist. Ever the manager, Al is determined to make it happen for Buddy now. They bust out of assisted living and hit the highway bound for New York.
The road movie is obviously the genre that skyrocketed Chase to superstardom with the “Vacation” franchise, and this trip is rife with the kinds of clichés that bedevil films like the John Travolta vehicles “Wild Hogs” and “Old Dogs.” Casual drug use? Check. Babes out of their league? Check. Andie MacDowell, thank you for your service.
But Dreyfuss brings an easy authenticity to the role, especially while performing Buddy’s sets in clubs around the country. The film burbles along pleasantly, if a bit sleepily — the pace is rickety at best. It rarely breaks formula, and while the genre is serviceably executed, it’s not exactly a thrill. Kate Micucci and Chris Parnell are saddled with the rather thankless roles of the nagging progeny, and the film hardly gives them a chance to shine.
Dreyfuss and Chase are given a few moments to express the poignancy of their characters’ emotional journeys. Buddy would rather risk it all than regret that he never played a comic’s biggest stage, while Al, a man who lived to work, is just trying to figure out how to live without it.
Getting older doesn’t have to mean being infantilized or pandered to with old-timey tunes and magic tricks. Buddy’s rather self-consciously corny act is classic, old-fashioned Catskills-style stand-up with a modern sensibility. While “The Last Laugh” could use a bit more pep in its step, Dreyfuss is a winning presence, proving he might even be getting better with age.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
‘The Last Laugh’
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes