Set amid the soulless glass offices of a business machine company in Westchester County, N.Y. -- specifically the milieu of the stressed-out salesmen, desperate to meet their quarterly quotas -- "The Last Time" is a movie that strives for contemporary noir in tone but feels closer to an ineffective parody of James M. Cain filtered through faux David Mamet dialogue. Writer-director Michael Caleo, with a TV scripting background ("Rescue Me," "The Sopranos"), makes a feature debut that shows little feel for either genre or credible characterization.
Michael Keaton stars as Ted Riker, a hard-charging super-salesman, a snarling Terminator in reflective shades who chews up and spits out his cringing colleagues, cowed boss and uncooperative buyers with callous equality.
He's paired with Jamie (Brendan Fraser), a purported hotshot from Ohio whom he immediately dismisses as an idiot (for good reason).
Ted's nihilistic, misanthropic shell vanishes once he lays eyes on Jamie's blond bombshell fiancee, Belisa (Amber Valletta), and their spontaneously combustive affair triggers apparent meltdowns for the men. Ted loses his edge, displaying a completely improbable second personality, and Jamie loses his mind, becoming a psychotic, off-his-meds idiot (compared to the garden variety he'd been earlier).
All this is well and good, but Caleo tips his hand way too early that something is amiss and allows his actors to go over-the-top in ways that do not serve the storytelling. It's semi-amusing to see Keaton strutting around with a curled-lip belligerence, but Fraser is much less convincing as a wide-eyed Midwesterner who can't close a deal to save his life.
The movie unravels pretty quickly as Caleo almost immediately gives away the "what" but remains marginally entertaining as he manages to maintain some suspense in the "why" and the "how" before blowing the genre completely by going soft in the resolution. The big reveal at the end (complete with annoying little flashbacks that remind us of clues that were planted along the way) produces a marginally surprising twist, but the general plot outline may have worked with better execution.
"The Last Time." MPAA rating: R for pervasive language and sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Mann's Beverly Center Cinemas, at Beverly and La Cienega boulevards, Los Angeles, (310) 652-7760.