The Last Shot
Directed by Jeff Nathanson
The Last Shot is a Hollywood-send-up comedy loosely based on a true story. In the 1980s, apparently, an FBI sting operation was set up using an unwitting aspiring film director in an effort to get close to some real gangsters in Rhode Island.
It’s safe to say that this movie plays fast and loose with the facts as it uses the bare bones of a real-life sting as a comic setup in which FBI agent Joe Devine (Alec Baldwin) poses as a clueless producer with the money to go filmmaking. His first stop is with a veteran Hollywood producer with an triple-A personality – so well played by Joan Cusack that I wish that they had expanded her part. Every second of her screen time is so funny that I could watch it over and over -- Hollywood satire at its best. After agent Joe learns that he needs a script to make a movie, he wanders around L.A. encountering a variety of weird street people – all of whom have screenplays – that’s the joke, not original but it made me laugh.
Agent Joe finally comes across someone naïve and gullible enough so as not to spoil the sting by getting wise: Steven Schats (a perfectly cast Matthew Broderick). In a way, The Last Shot can be seen as a mismatched buddy movie – with agent Joe and director Steven in the lead roles. At first, Joe is playing it straight (although they should have put more emphasis on establishing the character as a credible FBI agent) and doing his real job of setting up the sting while Steven is the wide-eyed and passionate aspiring filmmaker who currently makes ends meet by taking tickets at the Chinese Theater and living over a dog kennel. The main theme is the love of film and filmmaking – Steven slowly infects Joe with that passion. Not only do they become real friends – as opposed to just allies in the project – but Steven changes Joe’s life as Joe discovers his love for moviemaking.
While the buddy connection is a key part of the story – the heart of the movie -- the entertainment value in Last Shot derives from the zany performances of the wonderful supporting cast. Tim Blake Nelson plays Steven’s brother who makes his living performing the same scene every day at a Bonanza theme park attraction – his excellent performance reminded me of his hilarious turn in The Good Girl. That character reinforces the love-of-show-biz theme -- he’s in the business just doing the best that he can.
Toni Collette plays Emily French, a one-time Oscar nominee who has had some setbacks in the last couple of years – drugs, porn, etc. – and is desperate to land a leading role to put her career back on track. Like most of the other show-biz characters, the spaced-out Emily character is played with flailing melodrama but it worked for me – some might consider it over the top but it made me laugh. The filmmakers took a jab at animal rights activists with the character of Valerie (Steven’s girlfriend, played by Calista Flockhart) – she’s an extremely high-strung aspiring actress who threatens to kill small dogs when stressed out.
In spite of the FBI-sting connection, Last Shot is not, in any way, a cop caper – it’s a movie about the passion for movies – a theme that I could readily relate to since I share that passion. Last Shot is Jeff Nathanson’s first project as a director – he made his mark as a screenwriter (The Terminal and Catch Me if You Can, among others). I sense that the Steven character may be a bit autobiographical – that Jeff Nathanson’s real-life passion for film may have been poured into his lead character. At any rate, even though the story is a bit silly – not at all believable as a real FBI sting – but I was captivated by the movie-loving theme. Most of the comic scenes were very well written and beautifully executed by the fine cast. The Last Shot is a very engaging comedy but it doesn’t offer any spectacular visuals so it won’t lose much if you see it on a TV screen – but don’t let that stop you from supporting this fine film while it’s in theaters.
Photographs are copyright Touchstone Pictures.
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