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MOVIE REVIEW

'Last Shot' makes it as a loopy farce

It's unclear whether the let's-make-a-movie farce "The Last Shot" has anything funny going for it until a scene in which Joe Devine (Alec Baldwin), an underwhelmed FBI agent, comes home from an assignment and finds out his beloved dog has leapt into the jacuzzi. He's incredulous. But his maid insists it was a suicide. The turned-up garden and the bowel movement left in the kitchen, she insists, constitute a note.

The rest of "The Last Shot," which has an impressive cast, including Matthew Broderick, Tony Shalhoub, Ray Liotta, Buck Henry, Tim Blake Nelson, and Toni Collette, comes out of left field, too. Despite the players, it's minor but racy and enjoyably rude. Any movie that would think Calista Flockhart to be the sort of high-strung basket case who'd hurl obscenities down at a dog kennel outside her apartment is worth sitting through.

Devine is trying to catch some mobsters on Teamster-related racketeering charges by posing as a Hollywood producer. He heads to Los Angeles to make a movie, any movie, and happens upon a screenwriter named Steven Schats (Broderick) who's penned a tear-jerker called "Arizona," about a woman with cancer combing the desert for Hopi Indians before she dies. Devine hires the down-and-out Schats to direct the movie. Suddenly, his life is looking up again. Maybe he and his struggling actress girlfriend (Flockhart) can move away from that kennel. Maybe she can play the lead.

The catch, of course, is that the whole production is a sham. Devine needs to have a reason to get close to the Teamsters, who, incidentally, are in Rhode Island, which means Devine has to convince Schats to ship the shoot east, where "Arizona" can still be made, with Providence starring as the Grand Canyon. Schats doesn't understand how that could possibly happen but he rolls with it, desperate to make his dream come true. This is another of Broderick's hapless saps. The part doesn't call for the insanity of "Election" or the wholesale naivete of "The Freshman," but Broderick makes you feel for his character, who really loves Devine for believing in him and his cruddy little movie.

Director Jeff Nathanson, who wrote "Rush Hour" and "Catch Me If You Can," adapted "The Last Shot" from a magazine feature, and he's created an absurd entertainment microcosm. It's the sort of place where a "Bonanza" theme park can coexist with a gleeful casting director who pulls up to Schats in her electric wheelchair and exclaims, "You just got a telegram from Pat Morita!"

The actors appear to be having a ball with the dialogue, which stretches from loopy to bilious. An uncredited Joan Cusack is particularly hilarious, playing a crazed producer who lists among her accomplishments, having "dated the black guy on `Hill Street Blues.' " This movie is full of pathetic people slouching toward fame. And before it gives up on itself in the final act, the picture's degraded air exceeds expectations. "The Last Shot" feels like the underachieving cousin of "Get Shorty." It could've taken its premise over the top but settles instead for a shrug. Although it ends just as the plot is about to self-destruct and get on your nerves. If Schats were just the littlest bit perceptive when it comes to choosing producers, there might have been no movie at all. Seriously, didn't he see the "Zapped" movie poster behind Devine's desk? Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

The Last Shot
**1/2

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