Michael Keaton plays a cynical hotshot salesman in a big New York
technology firm, and Brendan Fraser plays a Midwesterner who is new to the
company's sales force. They say Ol' Fraser was a superstar back in the corn
belt, but the hick is lost in the Big Apple, so he gets paired with Keaton in
the hope that some of the latter's tough urban savvy will rub off. The
strategy needs to work soon, because their division is struggling and needs
big numbers from both of them, but the hayseed just doesn't seem to get it.
He not only fails, but he starts to bring his mentor down as well, so the
pressure escalates on both of them ...
... and then just when you think you're going to watch Boiler Room 2, the
film starts to go off in some really wild directions.
The Last Time is an uneasy hybrid of two genres that don't really go
together: the talky "shallow world of business" exposé,
and the erotic thriller. It's Glengarry Glen Ross meets Body Heat. In the
pantheon of famous combinations, that's not likely to unseat chocolate and
peanut butter for the Jovian throne. After all, the whole point of "business
sucks" movies is to expose the tribulations and emptiness of everyday
existence: the shallow associates, the pressure to produce at all costs, the
stress on family life, and so forth. The main point is undermined if it
turns out that everyday life is not really so bad, and in fact would be
quite livable except for the shady over-the-top scheming and diabolical
machinations of a few monsters who ultimately destroy our lives with
dramatic plot twists.
I'm not going to tell you how that all worked out. As a general rule I
don't mind spoiling the plot of minor films, because I often ask "what's
wrong with the film," and the answer is often "the plot," so the problem is
impossible to describe without some spoilers. And after all, these essays
are reviews, not previews, so some spoiling is sometimes inevitable. If a
film sucks because of an improbable ending, for example, it's difficult to
make that point without showing precisely how the ending is ruled out based
on previous plotting. The case here, however, is quite exceptional. It is a
totally plot-driven film and the presentation is really not as clever as it
may have been because the director spoiled the surprises too early. On the
other hand, I really enjoyed the hyperbolic plot twists and didn't really
see the last one coming, so I don't want to ruin the film for you.
You're thinking, "So then what the hell did you enjoy about a plot-driven
film with plotting problems."
A few things:
1. Michael Keaton. I wish he would work more. This guy seems to go so
long between appearances, and it's a shame because he's really a fascinating
actor. He has a way of always seeming lost in thought, a posture of "OK, I'm
mouthing some words, but I have something completely different going on in
my head." He creates great moments with pauses and quirky missteps that
would hurt just about any other actor, but work for him. He fires off
comedic riffs and insults with deadly accurate timing, but he can also use
his mannerisms to reach out to an audience with an assurance that he knows
what's really going on. The other characters in the drama may think they
know what's happening, and we in the audience may think we do, but Michael
is always the guy who's really on top of it, and his tongue will show the
rest of us no mercy if we're too dense to catch on. He has that Bogartian ability to convey that he's jaded, but not really. I've scoffed
every time somebody has proposed a remake of Casablanca with an actor like
Ben Affleck or Sean Penn, and I'll continue to do so, but if anybody could
pull off Bogie's "cynical exterior masking an idealist's heart," Keaton
would be the man.
Is there any other actor like Keaton? Kevin Spacey and Kurt Russell are
close. Kurt's essential screen persona is equally dismissive of pussies and
fools, but Kurt is more laid-back, less pensive. In this film Keaton plays a
sensitive college professor turned ruthless business shark, and it's easy to
imagine him in both roles. It's difficult to picture Kurt Russell lecturing
about Matthew Arnold's poetry to an honors class at Northwestern, but Keaton
can pull that off. Of course, Spacey could pull that off as well, but
the difference is that Keaton could make it seem positively rock-star macho!
The Last Time wandered into a few theaters in New York and LA in May of
it was fundamentally a straight-to-DVD release, and while I'm saddened to
see a favorite like Keaton appear in a non-theatrical B movie, I'm pleased
to say that he makes the entire experience worth the watch. I can't think of
anyone else who could have pulled off the "snarky guy turned romantic" role
quite so well.
2. This film has quite a wicked sense of humor. Keaton delivers most of
the zingers, but some of the others get their licks in as well.
3. I didn't exactly figure out the biggest plot surprise. I knew
something big was coming, but the script was deft enough to convince me that
it was something completely different.
4. Former supermodel Amber Valletta is, of course, gorgeous. with a great
smile. Looks like a younger version of Cameron Diaz.