Film Review – The Last Movie Star

The Last Movie Star is the latest film from the prolific Adam Rifkin, who has had one of the most fascinating, off-the-wall careers of any filmmaker. He has done everything from Detroit Rock City to exploitation films (which he made under the alias Rif Coogan) to writing big Hollywood films, like Joe Dante’s woefully underrated Small Soldiers and directing his own cult classic, The Dark Backward. Somehow, Rifkin has always been able to continuously get films made over the years, which can’t be said of many of his contemporaries

This new film is about an ageing movie star, Vic Edwards, played by Burt Reynolds. Edwards gets an invite to a film festival where he is set to be the guest of honour and get an award. Rifkin has said he wouldn’t’ve made the film if Reynolds didn’t sign on to it, and it’s impossible to imagine anybody else in that role, because it’s such a love letter to Reynolds and his screen persona. He even throws the ageing Burt Reynolds into scenes from his most famous films, like Smokey & The Bandit and Deliverance, to interact with his younger self.  He also uses various archival video and images of Burt well, whether it’s his famous appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or his legendary nude spread in Cosmopolitan.

Rifkin, who is no stranger to film festivals across the globe, perfectly depicts one of those rinky-dink film festivals that he must have had some experience with. It’s all in a bar, with the films being projected onto a wall and the “guest of honour” is staying in a Motel 6 down the road—in other words, it’s totally spot on. Although it’s a brilliant depiction of low-rent film festivals, it’s also really a film that is a reflection on Reynolds’s own mortality, growing old, and finding connections with perhaps the most unlikely people. Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world at one point, and that was for a reason: he was ridiculously charming, good-looking, goofy, but also had enough serious acting chops to make the stupidest film enjoyable. Reynolds, who has always a self-aware actor, has never been more so than here.

Although the film has been completely tailored for Burt, it’s not as faithful to Burt’s own life as you might believe, which makes it a case that he is playing a meta version of himself rather than truly being himself. It also boasts a strong supporting cast, including Chevy Chase as Sonny, who is Vic Edwards’s agent and encourages him to attend the festival. Ariel Winter is the real surprise in her role as the sister of the guy who is putting on the festival and Vic Edwards’s reluctant driver for the weekend. The film really shines during the last half, when Winter and Reynolds go around Knoxville to see the old sights, and the chemistry is magnetic. Ellar Coltrane, who audiences will always remember for Boyhood, plays one of the friends who is helping put the festival on.

The Last Movie Star certainly has an injection of sentimentality throughout, but every single moment of heartstring-tugging is utterly earned due to the script by Rifkin, which is playful and funny but has a certain heft due to Burt’s performance. It’s a remarkable little film that would make a solid double bill with the Harry Dean Stanton vehicle Lucky, which covers similar ground and plays with the actor’s personal and professional persona in equally fun but moving ways.

★★★★

Ian Schultz

The film is currently available on various VOD platforms including Amazon and iTunes.

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