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'Last Shot' makes a federal case of zaniness

September 24, 2004|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

Maybe it's the insanity of the business, the blanket amorality of the participants, or simply the urge perpetually disgruntled writers feel to express their frustration. Whatever the reason, comedies about Hollywood tend to be some of the funniest comedies Hollywood makes. You can add the thoroughly amusing "The Last Shot" to that list.

"The Last Shot" fits comfortably into a group that includes "State and Main," "The Big Picture" and the venerable "Hollywood Boulevard." It's deftly done with an off-the-wall sense of humor joined to a real insider's sense of how the business operates.

The insider in question is writer-director Jeff Nathanson, whose writing credits include "Rush Hour 2" and two Steven Spielberg films, "Catch Me if You Can" and "The Terminal." After seeing Nathanson's opening credit appear as the nametag on a comatose porno theater cashier, it's not surprising that "The Last Shot" delivers more of a zany independent film feeling than anything Walt Disney Co. has released lately.

Like any successful comedy, "The Last Shot" is shrewdly cast (by Deborah Aquila and Tricia Wood), from stars Matthew Broderick and Alec Baldwin to skillful supporting players like Toni Collette, Tony Shalhoub, Calista Flockhart, Tim Blake Nelson and an unbilled Joan Cusack. Any film that has both Russell Means and Pat Morita playing themselves, not to mention a lonely dog that commits suicide in a Jacuzzi, is not cut from ordinary cloth.

"The Last Shot" is especially smart in its central notion of the movie business as a highly infectious virus everyone is in mortal danger of catching. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, the desire to make showbiz your life can grab you by the throat when you least expect it.

Take FBI agent Joe Devine (Baldwin), for example. He is minding his own business, trying to infiltrate organized crime in Providence, R.I., when a wiretap tells him that local wiseguy Tommy Sanz (Shalhoub) takes bribes from movie companies to keep the essential but troublesome Teamsters in line.

If he posed as a producer, Devine tells his skeptical FBI bosses in Washington, he could bribe Sanz and open him up to arrest and prosecution. But to be a producer, you need a script and a director. So Devine makes a trip to the Coast, where he eventually meets Steven Schats (Broderick).

Schats is a familiar L.A. type, the tirelessly earnest true believer, so passionate about his terrible script, "Arizona," that he goes to showbiz funerals in an attempt to network. He even drives his actress girlfriend (Flockhart) crazy by insisting that they live next door to a kennel frequented by the dogs of the stars.

No sooner does Devine attach himself to Schats' project, about a woman dying of cancer seeking solace in the Southwest, than he insists that it be moved to Providence. Yes, the producer admits, the Grand Canyon would have to be changed to a landfill, and Hopi spirit caves would have to be re-created in mini-storage units, but "the guts of the story wouldn't have to change."

The whole point of Devine's deception (which improbably turns out to be based on a true story) is that no actual picture would ever be made. But, like everyone else, Devine gets the bug, especially when major acting diva Emily French (Collette) unaccountably falls in love with the script. Suddenly making the fantasy real becomes almost more important than life itself.

Filled though it is with a wide variety of wacky encounters, "The Last Shot" is not without its touches of poignancy. Finally, this is a film about what we're willing to do to make our dreams come true. And who doesn't know what it means to dream?


'The Last Shot'

MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual content

Times guidelines: Some nudity in a sexual situation

Matthew Broderick...Steven Schats

Alec Baldwin...Joe Devine

Toni Collette...Emily French

Calista Flockhart...Valerie Weston

Tim Blake Nelson...Marshal Paris

A Morra, Brezner, Steinberg and Tenenbaum production, in association with A Mandeville Films production, released by Touchstone Pictures. Director Jeff Nathanson. Producers Larry Brezner, David Hoberman. Executive producers Stan Wlodkowski, Todd Lieberman. Screenplay Jeff Nathanson, based upon an article by Steve Fishman. Cinematographer John Lindley. Editor David Rosenbloom. Costumes Gloria Gresham. Music Rolfe Kent. Production design William Arnold. Art director Seth Reed. Set decorator Natali Kendrick Pope. Running time: 1 hour,

33 minutes.

In general release.

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