THE LAST SHOT, a movie about making movies, cries out for the acerbic tone of THE PLAYER, or the finely observed lunacy of DAY FOR NIGHT, or even the distilled vitriol of ALL ABOUT EVE (yes, I know that film is about the stage, not the screen, but there are so few GOOD films about making films). Alas, instead of a sharp satiric edge, there is the dull thud of overripe tomatoes hitting the pavement. Sure, there are a few satisfying thwacks, but mostly itís just so much messy juice oozing languidly on the way to nowhere.
The plot, based on a true story, seems like a sure thing. Joe Devine (Alec Baldwin) the FBIís most innovative thinker devises a daring plan to trap an organized crime honcho (Tony Shaloub) in Rhode Island. It will make his career and even get him transferred to a glamour post, which is anywhere but where he is, something that even his well-placed brother (Ray Liotta) canít make it happen. The plan is the stuff of screwball comedy and satire. Heíll pretend to be a movie producer, complete with script, pre-production, and a La La Land swagger. The twist is that making a movie always requires a healthy gaggle of teamsters whether theyíre needed or not. Heíll snare the honcho into accepting a bribe to get around the teamsterís union requirement.
With the Bureauís cautious blessing, heís off to Hollywood and the best bit in the movie as Devine consults a dippy yet hard-bitten Tinsel Town producer, played by a dippy Joan Cusak who almost steals the film with an extended, if vivid, cameo as a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed harridan whose advice includes never hiring a diabetic. Thus prepared, he goes forth in search of a script, which, of course, proves to be surprisingly easy. That everyone has one is a clichť that the filmís script does little to energize with itís odd lot of misfits pitching stories at bus stops like the one about a headless would-be voter. But the script he picks is by Steven Schats (Matthew Broderick), whom he meets at a dog kennel where Schatsí would-be actress wife (Callista Flockhart) is threatening a Pomeranian with a very big knife. Itís a bit thatís more creepy than anything else, considering Devineís back story includes a dog that may or may not have committed suicide.
That the film is set in the desert of Arizona and must the filmed in Rhode Island doesnít faze Devine. In of the few bright spots in this otherwise unoriginal approach to the absurdities of the film biz, Devine eagerly shows Schats what heís found to stand in for the wild west. Unfortunately, once you get past the plan to substitute a storage unit for a Hopi spirit cage, the only other thing to latch onto is Toni Collette, wily and wolfish as the formerly respected thespian on the rebound from a series of bad career moves. Naturally, Devine starts to blur reality with the cover story and begins the take the film, and his new puppy dog of a pal, Schats, as a serious endeavor. One that might include making films in other cities with organized crime problems.
Scenes that should zing, such as taking notes on the script from his FBI higher-ups, suffer from a lack of energy that puts everyone to sleep, even Baldwin, who seems oddly stifled, as though the filmmakers canít quite decide if he should be a buffoon or a straight man. Broderick is wide-eyed and enthusiastic as always, and thatís the problem. Weíve seen this character and Broderick playing him elsewhere and with more conviction. The extraneous subplot involving Schatsí family running a tribute to the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa never flies, even with Tim Blake Nelsonís as the disgruntled brother shot down three times a day during the gunslinging re-enactments.
THE LAST SHOT proves yet again how hard it is to make a spoof of a business that out-spoofs itself on a daily, even hourly basis. A gentle approach is, as we see, the kiss of death.