‘Last Shot’ hits its mark

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It takes a certain bullheadedness to shop a script around for years in the stubborn delusion that some day, somehow, someone will option it.

Steven Schats, the would-be screenwriter played by Matthew Broderick in the “The Last Shot,” a Hollywood satire opening today, has just that bullheadedness — and we love ‘em for it.

So does the new film’s writer/director Jeff Nathanson, until now best known as a screenwriter on Steven Spielberg’s last two films, “The Terminal” and “Catch Me If You Can.”

Based on real events, “The Last Shot” is an ode to Hollywood that melds Mr. Nathanson’s insider status with a wink-wink industry savaging.

We only hurt the ones we love.

FBI agent Joe Devine (Alec Baldwin) is so tough he willingly lets his finger get lopped off — to be reattached later — to bag the bad guys. So it’s hardly a stretch to see him chosen to run an experimental new case — producing a fake movie to snare a relative of the late New York mobster John Gotti. The Gotti cousin runs a trucking outfit which delivers goods to movie studios on location.

The only problem is finding a sap so eager to have his movie made he won’t mind some nagging imperfections in the shoot.

Enter Mr. Broderick’s Steven, a milquetoast writer who can barely contain his neurotic girlfriend (Calista Flockhart), let alone establish a movie career.

He’s gullible enough to fall for Joe’s inept pitch and doesn’t balk at changing the shooting location from Arizona to Rhode Island. Never mind that the film is named “Arizona” and features a heroine who spends her last days dragging her dying body through the desert.

They’ll fix that in postproduction, right?

Mr. Nathanson, in his first visit to the director’s chair, finds an appropriate comic persona in Mr. Broderick. The actor may be the too-obvious choice for Steven, but that doesn’t detract from Mr. Broderick’s ability to draw us into his cause.

The film stops dead twice to let Joan Cusack spew a litany of industry grievances as a harried Hollywood executive. Miss Cusack’s turn is short, brutal and viciously funny, though nothing she barks out can be printed here.

Nearly as vivid is Toni Collette, who until recently seemed addicted to roles which bury her complicated face under a series of mousy hairstyles.

She gives her vapid movie starlet, who believes the world revolves around her every mood swing, plenty of sex appeal.

But Mr. Nathanson somehow ends up with the most leaden of the recent performances in Mr. Baldwin’s hot-again career. His Joe Devine should be a roiling mix of coiled rage and pathos. Instead, we get a warmed over tough bored by his own sting.

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