Movie stars are a dying race. The likes of Tom Cruise and Dwayne Johnson are special cases amidst a sea of serious actors, dedicated to providing certain brands of entertainment. But there are a number of classic contenders remaining, for the eponymous moniker of last movie star. Burt Reynolds is one such actor, and he’s out to prove it with an unusually self-reflexive performance in The Last Movie Star, a film that takes a simplistic if sensitive look at the life of a cinematic legend past his prime.
Vic Edwards (Burt Reynolds) had it all: the starring roles, the money, the women. But now, he’s settled into a life outside of the public eye. That is, until he gets invited to the illustrious sounding Nashville Film Festival, headed by the less than illustrious sounding Doug (Clark Duke). Encouraged to participate by his long-term friend Sonny (Chevy Chase), Vic ventures over to the live lounge loving state expecting a hero’s welcome on the red carpet, only to face a rather sweaty and excitable group of film buffs hosting an event in the back room of a bar. With the help of some strong liquor and a hefty case of melancholic meditation, Vic begins to reflect on where he once was to where he has ended up, steadily ambling forwards on a journey of self-discovery.
It sounds a little self-indulgent, the sort of film you’d expect Reynolds to stick on in his own personal cinema as a sort of self-fulfilling mirror to his own life. And in a way, it is. While tonally, even totally different, The Last Movie Star shares a somewhat meta quality with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s similarly titled Last Action Hero. By this, I’m referring to the way in which The Last Movie Star cuts in certain allusions to the fantastical career of Vic Edwards, through references to Reynolds’ own work. From Smokey and the Bandit to Deliverance, many of his previous films make an appearance here, acting as canvases on which to explore Vic’s inward journey. It’s an unusually obvious yet surprisingly effective technique that dissolves the border between actor and character.
It helps that Reynolds is on top form, delivering a deliberately detached performance as a man on the edge of fame and fortune. Rugged and bearded with an aura of fatigue, Reynolds’ Vic wields an experience that, while written a little flatly, shows additional depth when in the hands of such a capable actor. The supporting cast don’t fare so well. Their performances are adequate, but underwritten in stock roles that are choked by our ever-present friend, the cliché.
Adam Rifkin does a satisfactory job behind the camera, gifting Reynolds with a cinematic proscenium arch under which to dominate the screen. There’s nothing inherently exciting about the aesthetic here and perhaps that was the intention: aside from a number of handheld shots and the aforementioned trips into Reynolds’ filmography, Rifkin sticks to strictly realist visuals. It works but does leave one wondering what a more inventive filmmaker such as Charlie Kaufman could have achieved with the material.
In its final moments, The Last Movie Star does dig a little deeper with a montage that taps into our fears and fanciful imaginings about the past and what we might have achieved if we’d done things differently. It’s surprisingly poetic, augmented by the sentimental gaze of Reynolds as an actor accepting his own fate, lost to the annals of cinematic history. But it doesn’t quite do enough to save The Last Movie Star from being little more than an enjoyable, adequately constructed road movie that acts as a (sort-of) final hurrah to the acclaimed filmography of Burt Reynolds.
With a more adventurous filmmaker, The Last Movie Star could have gone the way of a Limelight by Chaplin or a Synecdoche, New York by Kaufman. Instead, we settle for simplicity, a surprising outcome seeing as the studio distributing the film, A24, is all too familiar with ballsy filmmaking from the likes of Alex Garland and Barry Jenkins. Take a look out of respect for the matured bandit at centre stage. But don’t expect this to be the last and only movie about a star that you’ll need to invest your time and money into.
Dir: Adam Rifkin
Prd: Brian Cavallaro, Neil Mandt, Adam Rifkin, Gordon Whitener
Scr: Adam Rifkin
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter, Clark Duke, Ellar Coltrane, Chevy Chase
DOP: Scott Winig
Editor: Dan Flesher
Music: Austin Wintory
The Last Movie Star is available on digital now.