Cinema Signal:

Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler:
Celluloid Tirades and Escapades

Big Deal on Madonna Street
the DVD

. "The Last Shot"

This is a sometimes hilarious sometimes flat takeoff on the allure of Hollywood make believe and the mystical green light of production. As a spoof of inside customs and practices of the film industry it's a telling and whimsical satire put together by obvious insiders. As a factory for jokes, it varies, it wobbles, it tickles but most of all it finally brings a laugh to theatres at a time when something comedic is sorely needed.

It's well known or, at least, widely surmised, that the teamster's local, the union that drives the wheels of production, is mob controlled. So when often-overlooked FBI agent Joe Devine (Alec Baldwin) suggests to his superiors that the way to take down local mobster Tommy Sanz (Tony Shalhoub) is to lure him into a sting operation based on the illusion of a new Hollywood production, he's given the Bureau's green light.

Delighted by his success at pitching his law enforcement brain storm, he goes to Hollywood where he proves to be a very quick study in what it takes to be a producer. Setting up shop on a bus bench, he listens to a typically bizarre stream of story ideas until he finds one he likes, written by Mann Chinese Theatre ticket taker Steven Schats (Matthew Broderick) and titled, "Arizona," which they wind up locationing in New Jersey (where else?). After a swift and painless negotiation, the FBI man dazzles the young failure by appointing him the director of the project.

Word gets around, headlines appear in the trades, and Sanz is soon drawn into the sting by making an offer that's nothing if not pure corruption. But, Devine isn't satisfied. He wants to use Sanz to net the bigger fish from the east, like John Gotti himself. Plus, he's getting the hang of this producer business, he's developed a very large taste for creative power, and has an inside track to FBI funding.

The satire is enlivened by a steady stream of contributing talents, not least of which is the flamboyant "star" of the production, Emily French (Toni Collette) whose take (or takeoff) on the powers and peculiarities of actors with an Oscar aura is a sight to behold. Joan Cusack holds a loose rein on reality as she playfully exaggerates her erratic studio executive while Schats' girlfriend Calista Flockhart plays the aging starlet who has to cope with accepting a lesser role in her boyfriend's production. This is a cast that's clearly up for it, relishing it, and delivering a flow of tongue-in-cheek humor off Jeff Nathanson's zany writing and direction.

One of my favorite moments is when Sanz, who has negotiated his way to becoming a co-producer of Devine's project, is interrupted by the FBI while watching Emily French in a sex scene on cable. His eyes remain glued to the hot action even as he's being rolled on the floor, handcuffed, and dragged away. Picture it.

No doubt this has an element of unique appreciation for those closest to the industry itself, but no one need stay away from the conceit of an FBI that's vulnerable to the Hollywood dream. The idea of the tough agency becoming as much the victim of their Hollywood sting operation as the intended criminal target strikes a vein of farcical shine and slime. Technical contributions are pro and a credit to the genre.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick and Toni Collettee
The casting session
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