Steven Schats' (Matthew Broderick) biggest dream is to sell his movie script, "Arizona", the story of a cancer-suffering woman's "spiritual journey to find herself and the Hopi Indians" - all supposedly based on his sister's true-life story. But even though he was raised in "the business" - his family runs a "Bonanza"-style show for tourists - Schats is just one of the many, many hopeless hopefuls littering the streets of Hollywood. His luck is about to change, though, when he meets a movie producer (Alec Baldwin) who not only offers to turn the script into a movie but wants Schats to direct it as well. The only catch is that "Arizona" will have to be filmed in Providence, Rhode Island. Why? Because, unbeknownst to Schats, the "producer" is actually a FBI agent and the whole project is an undercover sting operation to catch some mobsters ...
Set in the 1980's, "The Last Shot" is based on a true story, a real-life mob sting operation which was exposed in the Details Magazine article "What's Wrong With This Picture?" by Steve Fishman. A truly bizarre story it is. And so is this movie. It seems that it's never quite sure how to tell the story, exactly: as a comedy, a satire or a mildly moralistic tale.
Hollywood always seems a little uneasy when portraying itself and its inhabitants, especially when it's making fun of itself. "The Last Shot", too, is marred by this uneasiness: The movie is timid where it should be brazen, conciliatory where it should be accusatory. It has a decent cast, delivering decent performances (Broderick, especially, is outstanding), but the actors have nothing much to work with, really, as the film skips from one short scene to the next without ever giving plot or characters room to develop. Thus it is, more than anything, the cameo-like appearances of the supporting cast which stick in mind: The brilliant Toni Collette as an over-the-hill starlet looking for a comeback; Calista Flockhart as Broderick's in every sense hysterical girlfriend; and Tim Blake Nelson as Broderick's utterly pathetic brother. And there are some exquisitely funny moments: When Schats is offered Providence's municipal dump as a "stand-in" for the Grand Canyon, for example, or the whole script-finding sequence. Still, the film is failing in the most essential parts: Everyone - FBI agents, mobsters and assorted nobodys alike - desperately wants to be "in the pictures", but this desperation, need and urgency is never really felt by the audience, just as there is never any real bite to the satire. And so the whole thing remains, despite its great potential, ultimately bland.
The DVD also features a number of extras (among them a commentary by director Jeff Nathanson and Matthew Broderick). The most interesting - as well as revealing - of these is a meeting between Dan Lewk and Gary Levy, collectively the true-life inspiration for the Schats character, and Garland Schweickhardt, the real-life FBI agent in charge of the sting operation: Lewk and Levy's career in the movie industry was, despite a promising start, de facto destroyed by their - unwitting - participation in the FBI operation and underneath their somewhat forced it's-all-water-under-the-bridge attitude you can still glimpse the anger and the sense of betrayal, and even Schweickhardt's platitudes that, at least, they helped put away some dangerous criminals cannot quite make up for the damage done.