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Review: 'The Last Movie Star' takes a good last bow

Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 3:16 PM Central
Last updated Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 3:17 PM Central

by John Couture

What was the iconic saying? Is it better to burn out or fade away? Whether it's the Neil Young song or Kurt Cobain's suicide note, the argument continues to this day. Is it better to go out on top or to slowly waste away in the afterglow of your glory?

There is no profession where these opposing sentiments are put to greater scrutiny than acting. Acting is (unfortunately) a young person's game and it seems that as you get older, there are fewer and fewer parts available for the geriatric set. In fact, there seems to be a cottage industry of "old fart" films such as Going in Style, Just Getting Started, Last Vegas or whatever Morgan Freeman is in this week.

Maybe it's just a cottage industry of Morgan Freeman films.

Regardless, the baby boomer actors have reached that certain age and now it's only inevitable that films start to ponder what might have been had they done down in a blaze of glory like James Dean. The Last Movie Star tends to keep things light, but when the film opens with an elderly Burt Reynolds putting his dog down, thoughts about the end don't stray too far from the film's focus.

The aforementioned Reynolds plays an aging Hollywood star who is invited to receive a lifetime achievement award at a film festival in Nashville, Tennessee. Let's be honest, Burt Reynolds is playing himself in the film and the parallels between his character's achievements and his own are only parodied by the actual film clips included from Burt in his prime.

If the film simply spent its entire 94-minute runtime talking about Burt Reynolds' career, I don't think anyone would complain. He's a charismatic actor that has lived a life that few people would have survived and if his real anecdotes are half as outrageous as those included in the movie, then someone just needs to capture him telling his life story. But no, the film quickly diverges from the old schtick to a journey home when Burt's character makes his millennial personal assistant for the weekend (played by Ariel Winter) take him back to his hometown of Knoxville.

The remainder of the film is a journey of self-discovery and reflection about a life lived a certain way and the choices that this necessitates. It's almost as if Burt Reynolds himself is putting his atonement on the big screen. For an actor that made no apologies while he was at the height of his fame, this sort of vulnerability is refreshing to see.

And yet, the film's second half is more uneven than it should be and the jokes from the first act almost seem forgotten. Perhaps, that's the real point of the film. While you will always have your legacy, it is in the distant past. No matter where you are or how long it takes you to get here, as long as you are still above ground, you can still continue to write your story.

A life, like a film, is not complete until the credits start rolling. It's pretty evident that writer/director Adam Rifkin intended The Last Movie Star as an homage to one of his idols, but it seems that Burt himself saved a few tricks up his sleeve too.

The Last Movie Star has a strong supporting cast including the ever-funny Clark Duke and a fun little cameo from Chevy Chase, who is probably overdue himself for a career retrospective. Of course, much like the previous award winners, Chevy Chase is probably too keen to actually show up to receive his accolades. Of course, there is some merit to being recognized and at the end of the day that is The Last Movie Star's biggest selling point.

The question is not whether it's best to burn out or fade away, but to live life to its fullest each day as though it might end at every moment and always take the time to reflect and receive much-deserved adoration.

The Last Movie Star will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on March 27.