What we have here isn’t much of a movie. In fact, it would be generous to dismiss it as threadbare. But The Last Movie Star stars Burt Reynolds in the title role. It’s perfect casting. Reynolds rode the box-office pinnacle in the 1970s and 1980s in vehicles as diverse as Smokey and Bandit and Deliverance, still his best screen performance tied with his comeback turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 landmark, Boogie Nights, for which the actor received his first and only Oscar nomination. Reynolds never much liked his porn master role in Boogie Nights, which proves again that actors are rarely the best judge of their own work.
In The Last Movie Star, Reynolds looks frail at 82, but his eyes are alive with witty challenge as he plays Vic Edwards, a superstar who started as a stuntman, much like Reynolds himself. Now a virtual recluse, Vic is coached out of his shell by his friend Sonny (Chevy Chase) to accept a Life Achievement Award at a Nashville festival of his films.
Instead of getting A-lister treatment, Vic is put up at a dump motel and taken to a bar where fanboy amateurs (Clark Duke, Ellar Coltrane) run the “big” show. Vic spars with Lil (Ariel Winter), a Goth millennial assigned as his personal assistant. A few good jokes sneak in, and it’s fun to watch Reynolds comment wryly on clips from his golden oldies, from Gunsmoke to talk show appearances with the likes of David Frost.
But as soon as Vic decides to hit the road to Knoxville, his birthplace, sentiment infects the film like a virus. Writer-director Adam Rifkin clearly has affection for his star, but he’s put him in a leaky vehicle that sinks way before the journey ends.
Sam Elliott handled a similar role with more style, emotion and dramatic heft in last year’s The Hero. But Reynolds, let’s not forget, really is a movie star. And a great one. The pleasure of his company is still an exuberant gift. He deserves more than an opportunity missed.