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On Netflix: THE LAST LAUGH (2019)

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THE LAST LAUGH
(US - 2019)

Written and directed by Greg Pritikin. Cast: Chevy Chase, Richard Dreyfuss, Andie MacDowell, Kate Micucci, Chris Parnell, George Wallace, Lewis Black, Richard Kind, Ron Clark, Carol Sutton, Chris Fleming, Allan Harvey, Kit Willesee. (Unrated, 98 mins)

In the prime of their careers, a comedy starring Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss would've been a major cinematic event. But in 2019, it's THE LAST LAUGH, a Netflix Original film that they seemed to have covertly stashed away on their site in their version of a January dump-job, calling as little attention to it as possible. Both actors have checkered histories of mercurial behavior and bridge-burning, with Chase the guest of honor at a brutal 2002 roast that was actually uncomfortable to watch, with almost none of his friends or former colleagues even caring enough to show up, the end result so unpleasant and mean-spirited --even by roast standards--that Comedy Central announced they'd never re-air it. Almost none of his SNL and COMMUNITY co-stars have anything good to say about him, and while he turns up in occasional cameos (most recently as Burt Reynolds' best friend in THE LAST MOVIE STAR), he hasn't headlined a film since FUNNY MONEY, a German-made comedy that went straight-to-DVD in 2007. Oscar-winner Dreyfuss certainly had his moments, clashing with Robert Shaw on the set of JAWS and most infamously with Bill Murray on WHAT ABOUT BOB? but he seems to have mellowed with age, keeping busy in projects of varying quality in film and TV, with his last really high-profile big-screen role being Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone's W back in 2008.







Written and directed by Greg Pritikin (one of the writers of the abysmal sketch comedy bomb MOVIE 43), and co-produced by arthouse horror filmmaker Osgood Perkins (THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER), of all people, THE LAST LAUGH has Chase and Dreyfuss hitting the age where they're apparently required to contribute to the "Geezers Behaving Badly" genre, and the only surprise is that Morgan Freeman isn't in it. Chase is Al Hart, a retired Hollywood talent agent--if the opening scene is to be believed, he once managed the likes of Buddy Hackett, Carol Channing, and Phyllis Diller--with nothing but time on his hands, listening to old jazz records and falling asleep to late-night reruns of THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW. His wife recently died, and his granddaughter Jeannie (Kate Micucci) is concerned about him living alone after a couple of minor falls. He agrees to visit the Palm Sunshine retirement community, where he runs into wildman resident Buddy Green (Richard Dreyfuss). The community cut-up and elderly stoner, Buddy was also Al's first client over 50 years ago, when he abruptly quit comedy to focus on his family and become a podiatrist. A widower enjoying the friends-with-benefits arrangement he has with his "horny" lady friend Gayle (Carol Sutton), Buddy loves Palm Sunshine, but Al isn't ready for retirement. All he knows is work, and he wants to give Buddy the shot he never took all those decades ago, convincing him to polish his one liners and hit the comedy club circuit from L.A. to NYC, promising him a shot on Jimmy Fallon once they generate some word-of-mouth momentum.


So begins the usual road trip, one that commences with Al trying to start his car but turning on the windshield wipers instead because...he's old, I guess? THE LAST LAUGH always goes for the easiest, cheapest laughs, whether it's a detour to a Tijuana where they wind up in jail where hard-partying Buddy has a bout of Montezuma's Revenge, forcing Richard Dreyfuss to be shown shitting himself in a crowded jail cell. In Texas, Al meets hippie poet Doris (Andie MacDowell), who still lives the Woodstock lifestyle and introduces him to weed and shrooms, where just the sight of Chase, channeling Clark Griswold at his most befuddled, makes goofy faces while hitting a bong before the shrooms lead to a trippy--and endless--musical number is apparently supposed to be hilarious. I get it--it's a simple, feelgood comedy for elderly audiences, but it constantly aims for the gutter, where, as per the Burgess Meredith Amendment set forth in GRUMPY OLD MEN, the humor is seeing old people being vulgar, whether it's copious F-bombs or other anatomical or bodily function references (cue Buddy telling a dick joke where the punchline involves "coming dust").


And like a lot of comedies of this sort, the filmmakers really overshoot the "age" aspect of it. Chase is 75 years old and playing a generally healthy character of seemingly sound mind. Why then, is he asked to portray Al as an old fuddy-duddy who suddenly can't figure out how to start his car and pines for the good old days of Lawrence Welk? They make a point of him never smoking pot back in the day, but would this guy have been listening to Lawrence Welk in the 1970s when he was in his 30s?  Considering the people Al supposedly managed, these characters should be played by guys in their 90s, like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. Dreyfuss is 71 and playing 80, and he seems more hip and with-it than Al, making Chase the straight man while Dreyfuss hams it up. Dreyfuss seems to be having a good time doing it, at least until the requisite Serious Revelation and the arrival of Buddy's uptight son (Chris Parnell) in the third act completely throws things off course. Buddy's routine really isn't even all that funny (though the audience is always seen doubled over in hysterics), but some genuinely hilarious guys show up in supporting bits--Lewis Black as one of Al's bitter former clients, Richard Kind as a big-time Chicago comic, and George Wallace as Johnny Sunshine, a Palm Sunshine resident who takes it upon himself to function as the town crier, beginning every morning being rolled around in his wheelchair to announce who fell or died the night before. Wallace's character is a good indication of where THE LAST LAUGH could've gone. It could've approached this premise with a mix of dark humor and honest emotion, but instead takes the easy way, with Chase tripping balls and Dreyfuss shitting his pants. I don't care how big of assholes these guys were in their heyday. They deserve something better and more substantive in their emeritus years than THE LAST LAUGH.



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