The message behind Adam Rifkin’s The Last Movie Star is too on the nose and too undercooked to be effectively earnest. As Rifkin explains in one of the Blu-ray’s special features, he’s a massive fan of Burt Reynolds, and he always thought the once-popular actor, who is facing health and financial woes, has never had the recognition he deserves. So what does he do? Well, he makes a movie about a once-popular actor, who is facing health and financial woes, getting recognition from the fans that think he deserves it.
The Last Movie Star, as Rifkin described it, was written with Reynolds in mind. Although the 82-year-old actor is currently attached to star in some upcoming, lesser-known projects, it serves as a possible coda for him in both his professional career and his personal life. As an actor, Reynolds struck it big in the 1970s with films such as Smokey and the Bandit, The Longest Yard, and Deliverance. Let’s also not forget about that centerfold piece in Cosmopolitan.
But, like many other box office stars, Reynolds’ fire was smothered by one bad decision after another in the '80s with a string of commercial and critical flops. There were some high spots in the '90s with CBS’ Evening Shade and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, both for which Reynolds received critical acclaim and numerous awards. But neither helped him get back to where he once was.
In The Last Movie Star, Reynolds plays Vic Edwards, an actor who enjoyed the fame he had in his younger years, but is now living with the regrets of the decisions he made in his career and his personal life as well. The film opens with a vintage clip of Reynolds appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, only with his character’s name dubbed over during Carson’s introduction of the actor. Cut to Vic Edwards today, and he’s getting around with a cane in his giant Beverly Hills home. His dog passes away shortly after the film’s opening, leaving Vic alone with no one aside from his friend, Sonny (Chevy Chase).
Both Vic and Sonny are the stereotypical old men, gawking at women as they perform yoga or as they walk by in the grocery store. Vic tells Sonny about a letter he received from the International Nashville Film Festival (INFF), which has the intention to honor him with a prestigious award. Sonny tells him to go, especially since it’s a festival that also gave the same award to people like Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, and Jack Nicholson.
Vic arrives in Nashville, expecting to be given the treatment any honoree receives. But, instead of the nice limousine and hotel room, a junky old car arrives with some young millennial named Lil (Ariel Winter) assigned to pick him up. She’s angry because of her supposed cheating boyfriend, and the fact that she would rather be attached to her phone than pick up “some old guy” about whom she knows nothing. She’s your typical millennial. Also, it turns out that the festival is nothing more than a bunch of people in the basement of a bar, and the aforementioned actors who also received the same honor did so in absentia.
The festival is run by Vic Edwards fans Doug (Clark Duke) and Shane (Ellar Coltrane), while their other friend, Stuart (Al-Jaleel Knox), runs around with a camera, capturing as much as he can of the event. Like many other fish-out-of-water tales, there comes a point in The Last Movie Star in which Vic is frustrated that the festival was not what he expected, and he demands to be taken back to the airport so he can go back home. With Stuart still filming, even outside of the festival, Vic lashes out, grabs the camera, and hurls it from the second story of his motel. Stuart isn’t too worried about the damaged camera, because it belongs to the school he’s attending and they have it insured. I’m sorry, but when I was going to college, you still had to pay if something happened to school property, whether it was damaged, stolen, or whatever. That included fancy camera equipment.
The Last Movie Star can’t decide if it wants to be a comedy or a serious tribute to Reynolds. Throughout the second act, there are moments in which Vic tells the younger version of himself about the hardships he will later face if he doesn’t change his act. This is done so by inserting the older Reynolds in clips of two of his box office hits, Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance, with some horrendously noticeable green screen effect. So, it’s not only Vic Edwards telling the younger version of himself to slow down and change; it’s also Burt Reynolds telling himself the same message. The movie really wants you to understand that, and if you didn’t yet, you’ll keep getting the same message throughout.
A role like this is usually one the Oscars would love, but the conflicting tones and overbearing message behind The Last Movie Star weigh down Reynolds’ opportunity to truly shine. Some moments work, such as when Vic decides to visit his hometown of Knoxville, allowing Reynolds to put some gravitas into the performance. But the viewer has to suffer through so many cliches and uninteresting supporting characters to get to those moments.
The limited time we get with the festival runners and Vic Edwards fans doesn’t allow the viewer to put much investment in them, as The Last Movie Star becomes more focused on the trip Vic makes Lil take to Knoxville. Like Vic, the supporting characters themselves caricatures and nothing more. The festival runners embody the usual hardcore fans that can sometimes become a nuisance for those in the acting world. Lil is a caricature of the millennial generation with not a care in the world, whose obsession lies within what is being posted on Instagram and Facebook, and if she can catch her cheating boyfriend in the act. Speaking of which, The Last Movie Star unwillingly becomes a giant ad for both of those social media platforms.
Winter does what she can with the endless exposition about her life and her job title, but her performance goes nowhere. And, as you guessed, her experience with driving Vic around does become life-changing for her. I won’t say how, but you can take a guess. You’ve seen similar movies like this multiple times, and The Last Movie Star doesn’t make an effort to be any different.
The Last Movie Star is being released on Blu-ray with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The special features are pretty bare, consisting of a few deleted or extended scenes - some of which feature Vic interacting with characters he would meet later on in the movie in another situation. The Best is Yet to Come is an exclusive interview with Rifkin, in which he talks about the long process it took to get The Last Movie Star made and how it was working with Reynolds. The final feature is an audio commentary track with Rifkin.
A24 is a studio I tend to trust with its releases, but even they can release some duds. The Last Movie Star is far from the worst title it has released, but it’s also one that doesn’t seem to fit the studio’s usual palette. It’s a standard story of a washed-up actor making peace with those from his past. It’s been done before and done better. Reynolds is able to get in a few good scenes in the third act, but it can’t make up for the rest of the film being generic and unmemorable.