The man’s name is Michael Keaton, and he is a legend. At least to me. Even when I was just a kid and I saw the movie ‘Night Shift’ for the first time, I knew that cat had greatness in him. Others scoffed when Keaton got the role of Batman, but I knew the man could pull it off. In this film ‘The Last Time’, the feature film directorial debut from ‘Sopranos’ scribe Michael Caleo, Keaton rips through the screen as the acidic, hateful, driven and angry salesman Ted Riker, a movie that I really, really enjoyed. At least until its surprising, misplaced and unfortunate final act.
In New York City Ted Riker is the top salesman for some operation that sells some kind of unknown manufacturing widget. Ted is peculiar because he is profane, abrasive, and treats everyone, including his clients, with equal hostility but when alone he is quiet, introspective and he obviously loves his mother as he uses his anger to cover up something that went terribly wrong in his past life.
Enter Jamie Bashant (Brendan Fraser), a gomer from Ohio, fresh from being the top salesman from over there and hired at this company to continue his success. He is placed under the wing of Ted, much to his chagrin, to show the irritatingly upbeat and effervescent mid-western kid the ropes so to speak. Jamie also has a beautiful fiancé who has made the move with him in Belisa (Amber Valetta) who has kind of caught Ted’s eye, which can’t ever be cool.
I knew something was up when Ted randomly ‘bumps’ into Belisa at a book store. I mean this is New York City so the chances of this really happening would be incredibly slim one would think, but they try to explain it away as Ted and Belisa discuss why Jamie is turning out to be such a poor salesman and why what worked so well in Ohio doesn’t work in New York one tiny little bit.
Eventually Jaimie’s failure as a salesman starts to chip away at his upbeat exterior, driving a wedge between he and his fiancée, eventually driving her into the arms of the man who is supposed to have his back. Just so you know the first time Ted and Belisa have sex is on the bed while Jamie is lying there next to them passed out drunk. Yes, that is ridiculous.
Though Ted knows that loving this woman is wrong, he doesn’t want to be right as his rough edges start to smooth out and we learn more about Ted, his heartbreak and why this woman whom he has so much in common with seems to be just the right girl at just the right time. Unfortunately whatever smoothness Jamie once had turned completely jagged as his job is on the rocks, his relationship with Belisa is in tatters and his only outlet is an EXTREMELY disturbing sketch pad he keeps nearby which allows him to jot down his feelings. It’s looking like something bad is about to happen to someone real soon…, or at least that’s how it looked. What actually happens is something completely different altogether.
One of the problems with this movie is that Caleo draws his characters far to broadly, with Keaton as the unrepentant New Yorker and Fraser as the overwhelmed Midwesterner… mind you, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Indianapolis are all in the Midwest people, and trust me when I tell you we aren’t that easily overwhelmed. But despite this, both of these actors are so good and a lot of the dialog that they are given, including the words given to the supporting characters which include Daniel Stern, Neil McDonough and William Ragsdale to name a few, made ‘The Last Time’ quite compelling. It’s a mix, at least from the start, of ‘The Boiler Room’ meets ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ as we get sort of an insiders view of how shitty the life of a salesman is.
Caleo also does a credible job of capturing the steady decline of the character of Jamie which gradually shifts the movie from a diatribe on business to almost a thriller in a sense as Jamie’s grip on his senses begins to come loose, paralleling the characters of Ted and Belisa getting closer to each other. Don’t read any further… because then we have the twist.
Merely the mention that there is a twist semi-spoils the twist, not that it made a lick of damn sense anyway. As we have discussed, a good twist goes with the flow of the film and brings clarity to a movie that already has clarity and serves as a pleasant surprise. Then there’s the twist that you know is coming but, if done correctly, will tie up the story and make you go ‘Damn! I knew it!’, then there’s the twist the comes out of left field and negates pretty much the entire movie that you’ve just seen, such as this one does, and this is the WORST kind of twist. Plus the movie didn’t even need it. To discuss this completely ridiculous and worthless plot device is another article altogether because now all the characters actions have to be re-examined and the movie I just spent the better part of a couple hours with is pretty much rendered inert. It was just silly.
Oh well, whaddayagonna do? ‘The Last Time’ was worth seeing to see Michael Keaton, who works sparingly, show why he’s one of his industries brightest actors, and it might also be worth seeing for all fledgling filmmakers to take notes on how not to execute that mind blowing twist at the end of your film. We’re not all as clever as we think we are.