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Awesome: 8.33%
Worth A Look: 16.67%
Pretty Bad: 16.67%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 6 user ratings

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Last Detail, The
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by MP Bartley

"Randy Quaid - Oscar nominated actor."
3 stars

It's true, so stop laughing at the back.

Thing is, he's actually pretty good in Ashby's film and gives the kind of performance that makes you sad that the numerous National Lampoon and DTV films drained whatever talent he had as a young actor.

He's Meadows, a young naval recruit who, after being caught stealing at a naval benefit, has been sentenced to eight years in military prison. It's across the other side of the country so sent to accompany Meadows are two officers, Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mulhall (Otis Young), who are less than thrilled by this babysitting assignment. Mulhall wants to get it done as quickly as possible, whereas Buddusky sees not only a chance to let Meadows experience a few of life's pleasures (namely drink, drugs and sex) before he's put away, but also a chance for he and Mulhall to blow the money the navy have given them on a good time.

With Ashby helming it and scripted by Robert Towne, it has an impeccable '70s pedigree, but the end result of this combination is something that feels like a lesser work for everybody involved (well, apart from Quaid. Critically speaking, it's still his career highlight unfortunately). At times, it feels like someone has been asked to write a parody of a '70s independent movie and this is what they have come up with. A lot of scenes have nothing but the officers grumbling to each other about what to do with Meadows, or trying to allay Meadows' fears about what the next eight years of his life will hold, or generally just sitting around drinking, smoking and yapping some more.

To some degree that's fine, there are certainly individual scenes that work well, such as the scene where they stay in a cheap motel room and try to toughen Meadows up, or the quietly affecting scene where they allow Meadows to pop back to his hometown to say goodbye to his mother. She's not there, but the state of her house and Meadows' pensive "shit happens" reaction to it, tells you everything you need to know about why he's ended up in the position he's in. These moments are few and far between however, and there's a lack of focus in holding these scenes together. There's not much sense of a countdown here and the whole thing is a little bit too laidback for its own good, without much tension or conflict running underneath.

As well as Quaid, Nicholson also snaffled one of his many Oscar nominations (it was the '70s, it was practically a law that Nicholson got nominated every year) and he makes a great deal of Buddusky, full of ire, frustration at the regulations that govern their lives and anger at what Meadows has done to himself. I'm not entirely sure the script knows what to do with Buddusky - he pulls a gun out at a barman at one point, and the attempt to get Meadows to throw a punch at him suggests a self-loathing or instability that doesn't really go anywhere - but Nicholson sure does, turning in a performance that looks like the cliched Crazy Jack role, but barks with life and vitality instead.

It's credit to Quaid that he doesn't get overshadowed by Nicholson (same for Young, who never really got the career his performance suggests he should have done) and if there's something that The Last Detail can't be faulted for is in letting its actors take care of what the script fails to do - make you care.

It's no forgotten masterpiece of the '70s, instead being a slice of indie cinema that wouldn't look out of place in the late '90s. But for Nicholson at his youthful best and a glimpse at the actor Randy Quaid could have been, it's worth at least one glance every eight years.

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originally posted: 01/29/12 01:06:05
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User Comments

5/17/14 Matthew Thompson A top-notch character-driven road-trip comedy. Little Miss Sunshine can't hold a candle... 5 stars
2/03/12 Charles Tatum Everyone tries too hard to make this INTENSE!! 3 stars
1/29/12 Jack Sommersby Plays better 2nd time around: entertaining and very well-acted. Nice texture. 4 stars
6/22/06 TB Dull film 2 stars
10/23/05 R.W.Welch Authentic sounding script and one of Jack's best perfs. 4 stars
10/21/05 Jack Sommersby A stellar Nicholson shines in this choppily-written, mediocrely-directed film. 2 stars
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  12-Dec-1973 (R)
  DVD: 14-Dec-1999

  N/A (18)

  N/A (PG)

Directed by
  Hal Ashby

Written by
  Robert Towne

  Jack Nicholson
  Otis Young
  Randy Quaid
  Clifton James
  Carol Kane
  Michael Moriarty

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