The Last Shot (2004) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Toni Collette, Tony Shalhoub, Calista Flockhart, Joan Cusack, Tim Blake Nelson, Buck Henry, Ray Liotta, Ian Gomez, Troy Winbush, Thomas McCarthy, Pat Morita (cameo), Eric Roberts (cameo)
Director: Jeff Nathanson
Screenplay: Jeff Nathanson (based on an article by Steve Fishman, "What's Wrong with This Picture?")
Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson has slowly but surely been building a career in adapting improbable but true stories into big screen comedies, although their resemblance to true-life events are about as tenuous as they get. His last two scripts were shot by the great Steven Spielberg, Catch Me if You Can and The Terminal, which weren't exactly the best examples of solid narratives, but they did manage to be light, whimsical charmers, thanks to that Spielberg touch. With The Last Shot, Nathanson finally gets his turn to try his hand at directing, and while the idea for a film is rife with comedic possibilities, he is no Spielberg. Despite a game cast of good actors and potentially humorous situations, Nathanson does everything right except for one thing -- he forgot the laughs.
Alec Baldwin (Along Came Polly, The Cooler) stars as FBI Agent Joe Devine, who has concocted what he feels is a surefire plan to take down notorios crime kingpin John Gotti once and for all. He takes on an undercover role as Joe Wells, Hollywood producer, and baits a struggling director named Steven Schats (Broderick, Election) to agree to make a movie out of his maudlin script, based on a cancer-stricken woman's trek through the deserts of Arizona in search of her identity. However, in order to score the big fish, Joe has to convince Steven to film his Arizona pic in Providence, Rhode Island, in the heart of the mob action, and Steven is so desperate for his big chance, he willingly accepts such a preposterous notion. The movie was never intended to be made, merely a ruse to get the gangsters to commit to an illegal deal, but as the movie comes together, it becomes hard for the players involved to know whether they are going to go ahead and make the movie for real.
Perhaps the only thing that would make The Last Shot truly something humorous would be the presumption of truth in the story, which we are supposed to have, since the opening credits let us know it is based on a true story. However, once you actually get into the story, it doesn't take someone altogether savvy to figure out that if this is a based on truth, that truth has been highly embellished to the point that it might as well have been a work of fiction. Perhaps a documentary on the making of the bogus FBI movie would have made a better feature film than the Hollywood treatment given here.
While Nathanson does manage to pull together a cast of character actors that perform well in their respective roles, what he doesn't really give them are funny things for them to say or do. Line after line of dialogue rolls by and almost nothing strikes the funny bone, and in between the attempts at wit come some very tired gags, like Steven's girlfriend, played by Callista Flockhart ("Ally McBeal"), taking a Pomeranian hostage for barking too much. Cameo appearances abound, but almost none of them as funny as they would seem on paper. Toni Collette (The Hours, About a Boy) seems like she could steal some scenes with an over-the-top performance as a vain starlet, but even her character has nothing much to do but primp and act pouty.
The Last Shot is full of jokes so inside, perhaps only Nathanson sees the humor value in them. Meanwhile, all we can do is sit and watch good actors valiantly trying to inject life in a boring script. There are a few nice touches, just not enough, making The Last Shot a forgettable misfire that isn't even as interesting as the bad, bogus movie that they attempt to create in the film within the film.
©2005 Vince Leo