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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Last Shot, The
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by Erik Childress

"But It Won’t Play In Peoria…OR Providence For That Matter"
2 stars

I’m amazed that films about moviemaking continue to get bankrolled. Satirizing where you make your bread notwithstanding, they are usually very light in the return pocketbook. There have been critical darlings for sure since we’re normally the ones snickering at the deeply implanted guffaws. But be with me on this, when was the last major box office romp to set its scene within the Hollywood system? There is one* in the last decade and Jeff Nathanson’s attempt tries to tell a nearly unbelievable true story but settles into being an unfocused clone of sharper works.

Joe Devine (Alec Baldwin) is a dedicated FBI agent; so dedicated he gives up his index finger to preserve a higher charge on his latest sting. His latest transfer to Providence, Rhode Island puts him in line to take a shot at the lower rungs of the Gotti crime family. Tommy Sanz (Tony Shalhoub) likes to grease the wheels of the local teamsters to provide trucks for a little something under-the-table. Joe’s scheme: To create the front of a fake movie production and get Sanz to provide some transport.

Shades of Wag the Dog immediately comes to mind, but how much waggin’ and how many dogs does one story need? Devine gets the go-ahead and follows through with every step in the pre-production process. All he needs is a script. And in Hollywood, even child molesters have a treatment. Steven Schats (Matthew Broderick) is anything but. He’s got a screenplay though and before you can say “greenlight”, Steven is rather shocked to be hearing “yes” after “yes” from this producer.

It even attracts the attention of an actress who has “been nominated.” Nominated for what exactly we’re never told, but a label tends to follow around even a softcore thespian like Emily French (Toni Collette). Whom Collette is playing is anyone’s guess (I’d put two bits on either Pia Zadora or Sally Kirkland) but it’s the kind of brash, scene-stealing supporting performance that would make her shoo-in competition at the Oscars if the film was worth remembering past its 90 minutes.

It’s too short leaving writer/director Nathanson reaching for about ten-too-many ideas. Our rooting interest is off-kilter. Shalhoub’s Sanz is nevermore than just a wannabe scarface who takes to the movie business on a dime while Devine is trying to drop one on him. Do we really care if Schats gets his movie made? Dreams are one thing, but the last thing we need is one more personal M.O.W. about a dying woman wandering through the desert. (Ironically sounding a bit like Collette’s last film, Japanese Story.) And if you don’t know what the moniker stands for, about half of the film’s humor that works is already lost on you.

There’s a theme streaking throughout every characterization of lost opportunities and living under the shadows of others. Emily was briefly the toast of the town. Sanz wants to get back in the good graces of the family. Devine is always coming in second to his brother (Ray Liotta wasted), a higher-ranking agent. And in a subplot that should have been excised, Schats’ brother (Tim Blake Nelson) who co-wrote the script alternates his acceptance of the newfound deal while playing the villain in his father’s daily staging of Bonanza. The theme also correctly pinpoints The Last Shot as a wrong turn coming on the directions of greater films like State and Main, Living In Oblivion and Get Shorty*.

It does come with its share of laughs, mostly from Collette and little asides like the FBI turning their full attention to the backroom aspects of showbusiness and Schats’ final solution to the noise of the celebrity dog pound he lives next to. Poignancy doesn’t always mix well with razor-like lampooning and this is too fascinating a tale to make us care about everybody. Hell, even if it didn’t happen quite this way we could have just switched details to favor the reality of Project Greenlight. Since Miramax never bothers to give their projects a full release anyway, it doesn’t make “Stolen Summer” and “The Battle of Shaker Heights” much different than Schats’ “Arizona”. Unknown wannabe filmmakers get their big break and a budget of one million dollars only to see a higher power steamroll the production, create a flop and they never work again. Hmmm, sounds like a good movie. It’s just not The Last Shot.

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originally posted: 09/24/04 14:22:49
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User Comments

10/20/04 Steve Kelley Some terrific performances and fresh dialogue. 4 stars
9/24/04 asina i've wanted this true story to be made into a movie forever. great! 4 stars
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  24-Sep-2004 (R)
  DVD: 10-May-2005



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