Friday, September 16, 2005

Sombrero Grande shoots back at The Last Shot
Review by Sombrero Grande

The title of The Last Shot doesn’t really fit this film. It’s close, but something more like “The Last Straw” or “The Long Shit” really sums it up better. The Last Shot is what happens when a talentless hack gets excited by The Sopranos and tries to make his own highly self-referential version of Get Shorty. There’s really nothing good that writer/director Jeff Nathanson has done in this film. The only things the movie has going for it at all are completely separate from his grasp. One is a good cast, which Nathanson ruins. You’d think a movie with Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Joan Cusack, Tim Blake Nelson, etc., would have at least a few good performances from these very talented people, but somehow Nathanson’s masterful directorial ability torpedoes them. To say these actors “phoned in” their performances here just doesn’t cut it. More like, “had their assistants turn on the speaker phone while they mumbled something from the bathroom while taking a crap” is more like it. The other promising thing this movie has going for it is a rather neat premise--the F.B.I. suckers a hopeful screenwriter into thinking he’s directing his own film while they’re actually using the whole thing as a front to try to catch a gangster--which writer Nathanson doesn’t get any credit for because it’s based on a true story. Nathanson adapted this interesting story into a contrived comedy that never even manages to produce a chuckle. I never even smiled for the duration of the The Last Shot, despite all its backbreaking effort to try to be hilarious.

You want an example of the “humor” in this film? In the opening scene, two mafia thugs argue, while interrogating/torturing Baldwin’s F.B.I. agent character, over the fact that the “opening credits” of a movie are actually called the “titles” instead of “credits.” Later, Calista Flockhart’s character is annoyed by the dogs barking at the kennel she lives next to, so she goes down there with a knife to kill them. Are you laughing yet? In another scene, the camera stops on a wheelchair-bound friend of the aspiring filmmaker as she tells him to “break a leg.” But wait, Nathanson f*cks up that “joke” by having the entire lower half of the woman’s body covered by her “Break a Leg!” sign; it isn’t until later that we even get to see that she’s in fact in a wheelchair. Nice. Putting the punch line before the setup. Obviously the mark of a skilled storytelling craftsman.

The language in The Last Shot is rough. And I don’t mean “rough” as in Fargo or The Big Lebowski where the F-bombs at least feel natural for the characters in their context; I mean totally out-of-context, pointless, unnecessary, only-for-shock-value stuff-like when a stand-up comedian knows he really isn’t funny so he punctuates every other word with an obscenity.

This is a cruel film. It’s cruel to animals, it’s cruel to diabetics, it’s cruel to its characters (both in terms of not respecting their identities and unapologetically kicking them around constantly like some schoolyard bully), and worst of all it’s cruel to the intelligence of its audience, apparently taking us all for complete idiots.

Let’s hope the last shot of The Last Shot is the last time anyone lets Nathanson behind a camera again.


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