'The Last Laugh': Film Review

Would that there was a first laugh.
1/11/2019

Retirees Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss hit the road in a senile Netflix comedy.

It took cojones for Chevy Chase — forever and always holiday-roading patriarch Clark Griswold — to star in a remake of F.W. Murnau's monumental 1924 silent The Last Laugh. Oh, wait. That's not what this is? An original story by writer-director Greg Pritikin, you say, about a retired talent manager, Al Hart (Chase), who hits the road with a former client, Buddy Green (Richard Dreyfuss), to rekindle their glory days? OK, well, at least Murnau won't be rolling over in his grave with Emil Jannings.

Viewers' eyes will spin in their sockets, however, from the first dialogue exchange, as Al makes an unhip mention of The Shins ("Ah, they're terrific. Very emo") and his granddaughter, Jeannie (Kate Micucci), winkingly notes how his reference is far past its sell-by date. Is there anything more desperate than pleadingly self-aware humor? How about an entire movie in which "desperate" is the default mode?

This is evident from the moment Buddy shows up in the retirement community Al and Jeannie are touring, raving from behind a walker and a goofy disguise about the horrors of senior center life. He's just kidding, of course (though this scene, like every single other, is laugh-free). Buddy and Al actually go way back. Many years before, Al booked Buddy as a guest comic on The Ed Sullivan Show, though he didn't show up to that potential date with destiny. Instead, Buddy abandoned show business, started a family and became the self-proclaimed funniest podiatrist in California. Yet the stand-up itch never truly left him. So Al suggests they take a road trip from West Coast to East so Buddy can hone his solo curmudgeon act before small crowds until, finally, guesting on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in New York.

God forbid any late-life spiritual journey should culminate with Jimmy freakin' Fallon. It's no real spoiler to say that the goal is shifted along the way to The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which is filmed, not-so-coincidentally for the story's sentimental purposes, in the Ed Sullivan Theater. That's poetry, man. But if you think bespectacled Stephen will actually make an appearance (or, hell, that the actual interior of the Ed Sullivan Theater will be utilized in the mawkish finale), I've got a prime piece of Netflix Original Content™ to pitch you.

Let's focus on something else, though not for too long on the interlude in Tijuana during which hard-partying Buddy drinks the water and gets a horrific case of the runs. (A key image of what we might term the "It Has Come to This" genre: Academy Award-winner Dreyfuss sitting in anguish atop the toilet in a backwater jail cell, his shirt stained with sweat and vomit.) No, let's talk instead about the scene in which Al and Doris Montgomery (Andie MacDowell), the free-spirited Kansas City-ian he romances, take shrooms.

Yes, Chevy Chase and Andie MacDowell do shrooms together. Who'da thunk? You might be surprised to learn it occasions the film's only visually memorable section, featuring a colorful musical number in which MacDowell channels Cyd Charisse and some eye-catching use of rear-projection that makes it seem like the late Alain Resnais stepped in for a day to guest-direct. Abraham Lincoln also appears because, sure, why not?

All highs eventually fade, and The Last Laugh quickly returns to its noxious mix of sweet and sour. A cancer diagnosis is hidden until an ineffective and inept dramatic reveal. Almost everyone finds Buddy's sixth-rate Don Rickles act endearing and hilarious, which nullifies any dramatic tension. And the film concludes with Chase proudly posing nude, his nethers hidden from view by a hunk of sculpting clay. Be grateful for small mercies.

Production companies: Netflix, Paris Film
Distributor: Netflix
Cast: Chevy Chase, Andie MacDowell, Richard Dreyfuss
Director-writer: Greg Pritikin

Executive producers: Todd Lewis, Robert Menzies
Producer: Rob Paris
Music: Jay Weigel
Cinematography: Steve Gainer
Editing: Michael Palmerio
Casting: Eyde Belasco
Production design: Nate Jones
Art direction: John Sanchez
Set decoration: Andrew W. Bofinger
Costume design: Ann Walters

98 minutes