by David Cornelius
Take out the unnecessary humor, ditch a handful of characters, streamline the plot, and “The Last Drop” might just be a solid WWII actioner. As is, however, there’s too much going on and not enough of it working - the result of a screenplay that desperately wants to be an oversized old fashioned war epic, the kind with countless characters and wild changes in tone that help build an overall entertainment experience, but also wants to maintain a budget-sized running time and slimmed down cast.The biggest inspiration here is “A Bridge Too Far,” with its endless supply of big name stars and subplots. Like that film, “The Last Drop” involves Operation Market Garden, the bungled 1944 mission to take control of a series of bridges as a chance to invade Germany. Unlike that film, however, “The Last Drop” actually has very little to do with Operation Market Garden - it’s all a workable backdrop, but at its core, the story could have used any mission, major or otherwise, as its set-up.
"No Maxwell House jokes, please."
And what is the story’s core? Well, the script, from Colin Teague (who also directed) and Gary Young (the duo previously gave us the limp Brit-gangster-comedy “Spivs”), prefers to keep us as in the dark as its main characters, a decision which backfires; by the time the secret of the mission is revealed and all the extraneous stories finally fit together, we’ve grown too tired of waiting for the movie to reveal its hand. (A glance at the DVD’s back cover or the film’s trailer gives it all away, but I’ll play nice and not spoil.)
The mystery kicks off with the launching of Market Garden, with a squad of British paratroopers getting shredded during an attempted landing. Only a few survive, including the typical grab-bag of war movie characters: the nice guy, the grumpy guy, the nervous newbie, the secret-y secret agent tag-along who’s busy keeping his secrets secret; etc. The brash American pilot who’s stuck with them is played by Billy Zane; although we’re told his character is Canadian, Zane gives us an oddball Elwood Blues accent, and his Zane-sized grin fills the Yankee role.
Which is odd, because Michael Madsen also shows up to fill the Yankee role. Here, he plays a greasy thug of a colonel, never without a grimace and a half-done cigarette. Madsen’s role is an extended cameo (hence the creaky “special appearance by” credit), intended to duplicate the joys of big-name cameos in the war epics of yesteryear. But this is Michael Madsen, not John Wayne or Henry Fonda, and the appearance has a distinctive lack of ’zazz that not even the purposefully hokey jazz soundtrack can spice things up.
Ah, but this cameo is a symptom of a much larger problem: there’s just too much going on here, and none of it has the slightest bit of consistency. In addition to the soldiers’ main story and the Madsen bit, we also get tossed subplots involving Dutch sisters who work for the resistance and a handful of Germans - including a gratingly bumbling tubby one - who are looking to steal some pricey Dutch treasures. (Oh, and the gratingly bumbling tubby Nazi? He’s the best comic relief we get. Lucky us.)
Yes, it all comes together in the end, but there’s just way too much chaos along the way. Jumping from zany comedy to serious war action to light caper fare becomes tiring rather quickly. Just when we get settled in one mood, the movie shifts its tone (quite clumsily). The result is an ever-increasing lack of interest in what’s to come next.Which is a shame, because aside from a few lousy moments (mostly coming from the tubby Nazi and the dopey Yankees), there’s quite a bit here that just might have otherwise worked. At its center, “The Last Drop” might have been a fun reworking of “Kelly’s Heroes,” but with a heavier emphasis on the action. The opening battle sequence is a stunner, and a few other key set pieces work up a decent thrill or two. “The Last Drop” is a work whose parts are greater than its whole; it’s when you paste everything together that the film refuses to hold up.
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originally posted: 04/18/06 07:48:08