Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss Seek Stand-Up Glory in Netflix’s ‘The Last Laugh’
Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss are joining their peers in celebrating the defiant liveliness of their twilight years. Like Michael Douglas or Clint Eastwood, they want to show us that growing old can be just as rowdy as when they were blazing trails in their classic films. Chase and Dreyfuss are the best thing about “The Last Laugh,” a rushed and clunky Netflix original that has the saving grace of showing two legends banter and grump together.
Chase plays Al Hart, a retired manager who specialized in representing comedians. When his granddaughter Jeannie (Kate Micucci) decides he shouldn’t be alone she takes him to an upscale retirement community. He’s not so keen on the idea but bumps into old friend and client Buddy Green (Dreyfuss), who could have made it big as a stand-up but decided instead to raise a family and become a podiatrist. Suddenly feeling inspiration, Buddy insists they hit the road together and that Al find him gigs. Al goes for it and the two are soon road tripping across the country and beyond, finding spots in California and even Tijuana. Al’s big goal is to get Buddy on The Tonight Show. Along the way they meet Doris (Andie MacDowell), a free soul who has a soft spot for Al. But as their journey continues we start to wonder if the two are not just chasing phantoms from their past.
“The Last Laugh” attempts to play in the tradition of recent films where aging screen icons use their age as the main vehicle for comedy or drama. The idea seems to be that if Clint Eastwood can smuggle drugs in “The Mule,” surely Richard Dreyfuss and Chevy Chase can light the stage with stand-up. But writer/director Greg Pritikin, himself still too young for grey hairs, directs this material with a rather flat tone that never lets the material come alive. The very look of the movie is the kind of digital camera work you easily find in countless student films. Unlike recent farces like “Just Getting Started,” the humor lacks bite or much energy. The writing feels too much as if it’s consciously trying to sound “old” as opposed to using old age as the starting point. In an early scene Chase is listening to his headphones and explains to Jeannie that the music is “very emo,” in another scene Chase and Dreyfuss sit around with fellow retirees, asking “do you still orgasm?” Much of the pacing lacks zest, with characters simply appearing and disappearing when they should have meatier roles. Andie McDowell’s Doris is meant to be the typical, younger love interest that brings some pep to Al’s life, but she’s woefully underused. There’s little chemistry between the two, even when they do mushrooms together. It would have also been nice to have a little more of Kate Micucci, who is immensely likeable.
Where there is enough chemistry is between Chase and Dreyfuss. These two old pros have mastered an impeccable sense of timing that makes them entertaining to watch, even as the material is unworthy of their presence. If they are constrained during the rehashed moments of the plot, they work best when there’s a feeling of improvisation. The two will sit in a diner playing around with the idea of how old people should eat and it’s so easy going you wonder if it’s an outtake. When Dreyfuss does stand-up he has a funny, natural touch and it is in these moments where the jokes do work much better. Chase’s best moment might be when he trips on shrooms and hallucinates that Dreyfuss is doing a musical number. Because the script lacks real conflict, everyone just kind of shrugs and accepts what’s happening (except for one good scene where Buddy’s son confronts him), we at least enjoy the moments where Chase and Dreyfuss are allowed to be themselves. These are two are so experienced they know how to deliver bad dialogue convincingly, like Dreyfuss in a Tijuana nightclub comparing Chicago’s south side to the border city (“it’s a really wonderful place to grow up, if you’re a bullet”).
By the end a classic story device will be utilized to make a revelation that is meant to put the entire journey of Al and Buddy into perspective. We almost roll our eyes, because the secret one of the two men carries is almost inevitable when it comes to how the formulas of these movies work. With Chase and Dreyfuss’s classic talents, this could have been quite the romp. Instead we get poor jokes delivered by two masters. It’s too less of a good thing.
“The Last Laugh” premieres Jan. 11 on Netflix.