The Last Shot

(2004) *** R
93 min. Buena Vista Pictures. Director: Jeff Nathanson. Cast: Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Toni Collette, Tony Shalhoub, Calista Flockhart.

In the mid-1980s, aspiring filmmakers Gary Levy and Dan Lewk got "the call." A Hollywood producer wanted their screenplay, if they'd be willing to try to make Rhode Island double for the film's setting of Arizona. Bemused but ecstatic, the men agreed. Trouble was that the "Hollywood producer" was an FBI agent with no intention of making a movie, but rather an agenda to nab mobsters horning in on film production. After adapting Steve Fishman's Details magazine article "What's Wrong With this Picture?" into an intriguing screenplay, writer Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal) found himself with his own big break: a chance to direct his own script.

The resulting film, The Last Shot, has the blunt energy of a teamster's truck taking on speed bumps. The odd scene ends abruptly and, worse, characters routinely disappear for long stretches. Though The Last Shot may be a poor man's State and Main (even sharing one of that film's stars, Alec Baldwin), Nathanson dodges pretension as he cheerily mocks (and not-so-secretly empathizes with) dreamers with stars in their eyes. Matthew Broderick plays Steven Schats, an eager Grauman's Chinese Theatre usher who, like most Hollywood drudges, carries his script all over town. Baldwin plays FBI agent Joe Devine, a slippery operator who, like most people on Earth, pretends to be with it and above it all while he harbors his own self-conscious dreams (of making it big in the FBI or Hollywood, whichever comes first).

Nathanson rounds up the usual second-class scenarios of Movieland: Schats's actress girlfriend (Calista Flockhart) wants the lead; biggish star Emily French (Toni Collette) does, too; Joe's FBI bosses—code-named "the dentists in Boston"—start giving Joe script notes, and so on. But Nathanson puts a little english on each shot: the girlfriend takes a Pomeranian hostage to prove she's serious; the star pees in a fancy restaurant's wine glass to prove likewise; and the FBI turns on Joe with impeccable timing. Tony Shalhoub, Tim Blake Nelson, Buck Henry, Ray Liotta, and James Rebhorn all figure into the proceedings (so do a couple of third-tier stars gamely poking fun at themselves in cameos). The Last Shot is no classic in the crowded field of movies about movies, but you won't care much as you try to figure out who Collette is sending up (Angelina Jolie, perhaps?), watch underrated actors Broderick and Baldwin try to outdo each other in the film's omnipresent comic reaction shots, and settle in for the patient, sweetly bitter closure of the well-played epilogue.

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