Movie Review: Last Call
By Matthew Huntley
April 1, 2021
It’s evident that “Last Call” is meant to be a love letter to all the local pubs, a.k.a. “buckets,” scattered throughout America (and likely other countries, particularly Ireland) that can often play an integral and formative role in its patrons’ lives. This much we gather even before the closing credits, which show several real-life pubs in and around Darby, PA, where the film’s story takes place. It’s also evident this subject matter could have made for interesting movie material, given all the distinct locations, people, and cultures surrounding cherished drinkeries.
But the operative phrase here is “could have,” because as it is, “Last Call” comes across as a lazy, uninspired concoction of hackneyed comedy and machinated plot bits that never suggests it will try to be anything other than rudimentary. Clearly, writer-director Paolo Pilladi, who penned the screenplay with Greg Lingo, from a story by Lingo, Michael Baughan and Billy Reilly, has an intimate knowledge and affection for the people and culture “Last Call” depicts, but couldn’t he have found a more authentic and less dopey means to communicate them to the audience? He confines the movie to such a stale, predictable plot and insipid, lowbrow humor that its ineptitude and callowness almost feel deliberate. In the end, despite us believing it was genuine people and experiences that inspired “Last Call,” we’re unable to believe in the movie itself.
The story centers around the age-old Hollywood trope that “small towns are for real, salt-of-earth people” and “big cities are for greedy, corporate sellouts.” With the exception of the film’s protagonist, the simple-minded characters in Darby Heights, PA, believe nothing about their town needs to change, that they’re all doing just fine, and if anyone tries to disrupt the status quo, they must either have evil intentions, be money-hungry, and/or have forgotten where they came from.
“Last Call” sticks to this tired formula so rigidly that Mick (Jeremy Piven), the film’s hero, never stands a fighting chance to develop into someone other than the typical small-town-at-heart guy who temporarily lost his way in the big city before regaining his senses and learning the value of home, family and friends, ultimately realizing he never had any reason to leave or try to change Darby Heights.
This setup might have worked had the movie actually made Darby Heights as attractive to us as it is to its faithful denizens, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot happening in this nondescript borough, which sits just outside of Philadelphia, and so we can’t exactly blame Mick for jumping ship and pursuing a high-paying career in real estate development. He has a point when he tells his childhood buddies that being an adult means growing up and growing beyond, taking responsibility, and paying bills, but nevertheless, the chief impression we get from the folks still living in “the Heights” is they’re happy to go about their days aimlessly and are satisfied with keeping things just the way they are.
To each their own of course, and while I believe that consistent bonds and familiarity are important factors in any community, so too is the desire for progress and mobility, and the people of Darby Heights only seem to want to sit still. Either the movie needed to tell us more about what its people do that’s worthy and admirable, and what makes their lives special, or make a better case for why we should believe Mick is in the wrong for seeking something bigger and better. The screenplay is too simplistic in the way it automatically paints its small town people as honest and virtuous and the surrounding city dwellers as superficial and wicked. For a movie whose plot is so contingent on our sympathizing with the normal, everyday people and condemning business types trying to change their way of life, neither group is given much complexity, and this doesn’t make “Last Call” especially interesting from any angle.
Most of what the movie presents is standard and predictable, including its depiction of Darby Heights as one of those blue-collar yet close-knit municipalities where you can walk into a pub like Callahan’s Tavern and everybody knows your name. Callahan’s is run by Mick’s pop (Jack McGee) and too often frequented and drank from by his guzzler brother, Dougal (Zach McGowan), whose routine drunkenness keeps the local cop (Jason James Richter) busy.
Callahan’s isn’t as shiny or classy as, say, Cheers, but it has the same assortment of staple, everyday customers who smoke, crack dirty jokes and trade insults. There’s even a cantankerous old-timer named Coach (Bruce Dern). And like Cheers, Callahan’s serves multiple functions: church confessional; burlesque house; and even funeral parlor.
In fact, it’s this latter purpose that brings Mick back to his old neighborhood. His mother has just died and her open casket is set up right next to the bar for friends and family to pay their respects. Despite his recent loss, Mick’s childhood pals — Whitey (Jamie Kennedy), Paddy (Chris Kerson) and Digits (Peter Patrikios) — waste no time in nagging him for turning into one of those fancy, “Krav Maga practicing,” “email-sending” types, the kind who thinks he’s too good to stick around a place like the Heights, even though he only moved 10 minutes away to Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.
After a night of reminiscing and binge drinking, Mick discovers his mother actually left him the family pub in her will. Being the opportunist that he is, and tempted by the scheming ways of his kingpin boss (Garry Pastore), Mick considers letting Callahan’s close under its own financial troubles while simultaneously convincing the rest of the neighborhood to sign a petition that would allow a new casino to be built in the area.
But many aren’t having it, including Mick’s pop and brother, who see right through him, as well as Mick’s childhood love interest, Ali (Taryn Manning), for whom his heart still fonds. About Manning, I will say it was nice to see her play against the “white trash, drug using” type she played so convincingly in “Orange is the New Black,” but she would have been better off choosing a different project to stretch her acting muscles.
Once the movie has its basic pieces in place, it all but guarantees the plot will unfold in such a way whereby Mick’s family and friends will eventually show him the error of his materialistic ways; Mick’s boss will be exposed as a crook; Mick and Ali will fall in love; and Mick will move back to the Heights and keep Callahan’s alive and running.
If this narrative sounds thin and dull, the comedy is just as stale, lame and dumbed down. Consider the scene when Mick finds himself in a compromising position with Mrs. C (Cathy Moriarty), an older Russian woman, and Ali busts in and sprays him in the eyes with mace. Or the flat confessions the male townies make to the local priest (Lars Gerhard) about their sexual improprieties. Or a hot tub sequence during which a local philandering woman gets revenge with a dildo after the men deem her easy.
None of these or any other would-be comic moments generates any sort of laughter. Instead, they make us wonder from what other lewd comedies “Last Call” stole them from, as most seem suspiciously recycled and antiquated. The screenplay makes no real attempts to be original in any sense, which is why the movie, as a whole, gives us little reason to see it as anything of value.
Instead of a vulgar, by-the-numbers comedy, why couldn’t Pilladi have made an honest, down-to-earth documentary in which he lets the real-life individuals and places featured in the film’s closing credits do the talking? They likely would have told us what it is about their beloved pubs that makes the establishments so important, and by extension, it would have registered with us why their respective towns are so special, which may not be apparent if we were to simply pass through them. Often it only takes truthful and genuine human testimony to convey why we should value something as much as someone else, which is what “Last Call” wanted us to do with local pubs. Unfortunately, given the movie is all but dry when it comes to truth, humor and anything particularly interesting, it fails to do that.