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Alex Stroup, editor

The Last Shot

Disney gives its last shot for a summer hit

Friday, September 24, 2004
by Alex Stroup, editor

I kind of feel like the nagging mother who insists her kid clean his bedroom, and then criticizes him for not doing it exactly the right way.

After sitting through almost a year's worth of one lifeless obvious Disney effort after another, I can only beg that they take risks. That they wander a bit off the beaten path.

Well, they have, and here I am telling them it wasn't done very well. The Last Shot is a movie in which an FBI agent lets a mobster cut off a finger so that greater charges can be filed, a woman threatens to kill a pomeranian with a kitchen knife for barking too much, and a urine sample is provided at the dinner table. Needless to say, Disney has finally delivered us a movie that wanders into uncharted territory.

Starring Matthew Brocerick as a failed never-was screenwriter/director conned into making a movie so that FBI Agent Alec Baldwin can catch a mafia boss connected to the Teamsters, The Last Shot is a quirky story that is told about 8 degrees off from the plane of our reality. In other words, it is a real surprise to see this coming from Touchstone.


© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Unfortunately, there really isn't a likable character in the movie; nobody to root for. Presumably, we are supposed to feel something for Broderick's defeated director (Steven Schats), but all appearances are not that he has failed for lack of opportunity, but because he truly isn't very good at what he wants to do. Other characters have even less to redeem them. Tim Blake Nelson shows up in two scenes as Schats's brother, and has come to accept his life as a performer at the Ponderosa Ranch, where the television show Bonanza was set. He's the only rooting interest in the movie, and he is a side thought.

The biggest failure of the movie, though, is that it tries to be funny by just being weird. When done well, this can be sublime and it always ends up going over most people's heads. So it could be that I had just looked up I'd have been able to see the movie going over my head. I didn't though, and at almost every laugh line I knew what was expected—but it just wasn't there. For example, the three things I described back in the third paragraph are all supposed to be funny, but only one was.

The Last Shot has a good hook—and a real one, as the screenplay is at least somewhat based on real events. Things are always tricky, though, when it is attempted to make a comedy out of real life. For the most part, life doesn't have the proper timing for true comedy, and it is a difficult thing to mold. Presumably contrained by real events, The Last Shot never really goes where it needs for a big payoff and simply fizzles to a conclusion.

Making his directorial debut is Jeff Nathanson, who also wrote the screenplay. Nathanson has overcome a rocky start (is there really cachet in being the screenwriter of Speed 2 or Rush Hour 2?) and has recently provided the scripts for Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal. While none of these are stellar storytelling, it does show a certain evolution. And with this effort, he does leave the broad brush strokes behind.

For his previous efforts, the films were ultimately showcases for actors (Sandra Bulllock, Jackie Chan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks)—but that also changes here, as The Last Shot is much more an ensemble piece. It is too bad that Nathanson (or Touchstone Pictures) filled each role with a recognizable face (you might spend half the movie wondering where you've seen someone in a bit part before) as if to distract from the weakness of most. Joan Cusack, Calista Flockhart, Tony Shalhoub, Ray Liotta, Buck Henry, and James Rebhorn all get two or three scenes and mostly don't get anything to do with them.


© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Toni Collette is always showing up in unexpected places doing unexpected things, so her turn as a former major star trying for a comeback isn't a surprise, and she is one of the really fun-to-watch parts of the story, revelling in the eccentricity of Emily French, Movie Star.

This leaves just Alec Baldwin needing mention. Over the last few years he has begun to return some life to his career, and seeing him play a bit of a blockhead is a good turn. His earnest—but not particularly bright—FBI agent is the movie's straight man, but what good is a straight man when the others aren't producing laughs? He hasn't added another embarrassment to his resumé (see also Malice), but he does have a bad haircut.

This isn't a great movie, but it is certainly a good effort. Between this and last week's Mr. 3000, you should make more of an effort to see this one, though I suspect that more people would be entertained by Mr. 3000 (which, of course, is why they keep making lowest-common-denominator movies). It should be noted that The Last Shot earns its R rating with plenty of swearing, a couple of somewhat graphic sex scenes, including a brief shot of a topless Emily French, Movie Star.

So. Let me offer up these tributes, just to encourage Disney to keep trying for the unique, even if there are missteps: Best movie of the year! Fell out of my seat with laughter! Calista Flockhart's best performance since Naked in New York!

None of these are true, but what's a little lie to encourage good at the cinema?


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.


MOVIE DETAILS

The Last Shot is a Touchstone Pictures release.

Wide theatrical release: September 24, 2004 (check local listings).

Directed and written by Jeff Nathanson.

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Toni Collette, and Tony Shalhoub.

Rated R for language and some sexual content.

Running time: 93 minutes.

Alex's Rating: 6 out of 10.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.

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