Monday, September 26, 2016

The Last Film Festival: Dennis Hopper’s Final Bow

It is hard to root against roguish independent producers like Roger Corman, William Castle, and Robert Evans. Nick Twain is definitely cut from similar cloth, but he has fallen on hard times late in his career. Nevertheless, he carries on. In his case, that means flogging a dog’s turkey titled Barium Enigma. Only one film festival has standards low enough to accept it, but a pro like Twain can still spin it into PR gold, if the so-bad-its-baffling film sweeps the awards. Twain intends to make sure of that in Linda Yellen’s The Last Film Festival (trailer here), the late, great Dennis Hopper’s final film, which opens this Friday in LA.

It should be busy festival for Twain. He thinks he has cut a deal with the politically ambitious mayor of O’hi, Ohio to deliver a clean sweep of the O’hi Film Festival’s Golden Spindles (yarn is a big deal in this burg). However, since his ex, the gracefully aging Italian sex symbol Claudia Benvenuti, who largely financed the picture is up for best actress against her co-star, Twain’s current unfaithful starlet lover, somebody is bound to be disappointed.

Further complicating matters, Twain’s Tom Cruise-ish star is missing and a trench coat wearing woman keeps stalking him, claiming she is his love child. That last part is a little embarrassing for Twain, but it will not prevent him from receiving the festival’s humanitarian of the year award—and justly so.

Sadly, Dennis Hopper passed away seven years ago while still filming LFF, unintentionally leaving Yellen in a bit of a bind. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from the final cut. Hopper (who reportedly thought he was in remission until he suddenly and precipitously fell ill), looks reasonably hale and hearty and just oozes devilish charm. He seems to understand all of Twain’s lines are funnier because he is Dennis Hopper (director and star of The Last Movie)—and he’s okay with that. It is just jolly good fun to watch him chuckle his through the film.

Hopper also forges some deliciously arch chemistry with Jacqueline Bisset, a good sport perfectly cast as Benvenuti. In a way, LFF would make a weirdly appropriate double feature with Truffaut’s Day for Night, in which she played the scandalous British starlet. On the other hand, the charismatic Leelee Sobieski is woefully under-utilized as Twain’s possible illegitimate daughter, but it is entirely possible she had more involving scenes with Hopper that were sadly not to be. Unfortunately, Chris Kattan is as annoying as ever as Harvey Weinstein, O’hi’s namesake undertaker and camera-phone snooping film festival president.

The humor of Yellen & Michael Leeds’ screenplay is definitely hit or miss, but again, it is possible many of Kattan’s gags had to stay, due to Hopper’s untimely demise. Frankly, it is rather remarkable how Yellen and the editors, Bib Jorissen and Steve Kraftsow cobbled together such a smooth narrative flow. Ironically but perhaps fittingly, Hopper’s Twain explains to his youthful agent how King Vidor solved a similar problem when Tyrone Power died midway through Solomon and Sheba.

It is nice to finally have LFF gracing screens. It is not perfect, but the overly broad comedic excesses never stick to Hopper (or Bisset). Frankly, it further burnishes his reputation, allowing us to see a sly, slightly screwball side of Hopper we rarely saw in his largely dark filmography. Recommended for Hopper fans and those of us who have been around a few oddball fests, The Last Film Festival opens this Friday (9/30) in Southern California, at the Laemmle’s Royal and Playhouse 7 theaters.