The Last Time Movie Review
Writer-director Michael Caleo clearly fancies himself a David Mamet acolyte. Like Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, The Last Time's plot centers on the vicious and primal world of high-pressure sales, and the dialogue comes out fast and caustic. Michael Keaton plays Ted, the top seller at a high-tech company whose product is frequently referred to but never actually defined. Ted is lonely, angry, and mean and he runs roughshod over everyone in his office, including his toothless boss, John (Daniel Stern). Ted is openly pissed off when he's directed to help orient the new guy, Jamie (Brendan Fraser). Everything changes, however, when Jamie introduces Ted to his gorgeous fiancée, Belisa (Amber Valletta). Ted takes an immediate interest in Belisa -- and his feelings only strengthen when he discovers that Belisa and Jamie aren't entirely happy together.
Caleo comes to The Last Time by way of television. He's credited with having written an episode of both The Sopranos and Rescue Me. And this is just the type of small-scale project that a guy with some success in TV could credibly sell to a film executive. A contained budget, edgy dialogue, a little nudity, and a handful of juicy acting parts perfect for breathing life into foundering careers -- what's not to like? Well, just about everything else.
For starters, Ted's topsy-turvy emotional swings are too incredible to be believed. Keaton infuses each scene with his usual brand of fidgety charisma, but it's impossible to ignore the contrivances he's forced to act his way through. In one scene he's spitting acid putdowns at everyone who crosses his path and in the next he's talking sweetly on the telephone to his dotty aging mother. Humans don't work like that. Nor do they work like Fraser's Jamie. The top seller at his previous job, Jamie acts like he's never been on a sales call in the handful of scenes aimed at establishing his professional struggles. Such dissonance is presumably meant to represent human complexity, but Caleo's heavy hand undermines his ambitions.
In his defense, The Last Time bears the marks of an editing-room battle that almost surely left him unhappy. It seems that a large portion of the first half-hour of the movie was cut completely. Not long after the opening, the story's established pace suddenly and inexplicably surges forward -- and afterward characters begin referring to events that never happened. This has the effect of significantly streamlining the story but it also eliminates characterization that could have markedly improved the story.
Having said that, no amount of characterization would have helped The Last Time's closing act, which is reminiscent -- in the worst possible way -- of The Spanish Prisoner. It would be irresponsible of me to hint at the nature of the trick, but let me just say that it fails miserably. Like everything else in the film, the ending feels forced, like it wants to be much more than it actually is.
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