Written by: Matt Patti | September 14th, 2020
The Last Laugh (Jeremy Berg, 2020) 1½ out of 4 stars.
I’ve always been interested in films that combine two unrelated topics/genres into one plot. In fact, an exercise in a screenwriting class that I took in college involved taking the plots of two different films and combining them into one singular idea, in a way that can be marketed as “(title of film) meets (title of another film)”. In the case of director Jeremy Berg’s The Last Laugh, the marketing team touts it as “Suspiria meets Scream.” However, as interesting as this idea to take aspects from different films and combine them together is, when the aspects borrowed are executed in such an inferior way compared to those films it borrowed from, it presents the film as an unoriginal, cheap combination of those films. Unfortunately, this is the case with The Last Laugh. Even though the idea of the film sounds intriguing, and at times is, the execution is poor and leaves the viewer wanting more.
The Last Laugh focuses on young up-and coming but also down-on-his-luck comedian Myles (Steve Vanderzee). Myles had a promising future as a comedian after a hit gig at a bar in Portland, but after losing his wife, his charisma fades and he can no longer draw a crowd. However, he gets a lucky chance when he is booked as the opener for a show in a large theater starring a famous but washed-up comedian. His agent informs Myles that a well-known comedic show host will be attending the performance and is looking to scout Myles, possibly having him on the show if she likes what she sees. Myles arrives at the theater on the day of the show a few hours early to prepare. In the midst of his preparations, he finds some strange things happening, including a dead body in his dressing room. Myles, though, knows how important this night is for him, and doesn’t want anything to mess it up. He ponders whether he should tell anyone what he has seen, but when he comes face to face with a masked killer, Myles soon realizes that this just might not be his night.
The logline of this film describes a comedian dealing with a killer inside a theater in which he is to perform. From that, one might guess that the film is a horror-comedy about a comedian trying to stop a killer from killing his audience. However, the film is not along those lines at all and is instead a very serious, dark thriller that takes place mostly in the backstage area of the theater before the show begins. Myles, it turns out, has a dark past and is mentally unstable, relying on medication to keep him going. However, his medication goes missing and we get to see the effects of Myles not having it. The filmmakers do a good job of making Myles a layered, intriguing character. Unfortunately, they do not do such a good job of making him likeable. His “warm-up” jokes are a bit edgy, offensive, and unsympathetic. He also makes a handful of selfish, horrific decisions throughout the film that make little sense and are decisions that only the truly greedy would make. So, if the filmmakers are aiming to create an unlikeable protagonist that is easy to relate to but hard to get behind, they do just that. I, however, think that the choices Myles makes ruins what could be a developed protagonist that the audience could root for.
Though the lack of a likeable protagonist is one of my largest issues with the film, it is plagued with many other problems that weigh it down. The supporting characters are all basic and not interesting. The performances all around are dry, unremarkable and at times unbelievable. The film contains some obvious plot holes while at the same time having some scenes that are absolutely pointless and contribute nothing to that plot. The film has some glaring technical issues, as well. It enters into some sloppy, clunky slo-mo sequences that are distracting and don’t work at all. Also, there is one scene in which the lips of a character do not match what they are saying, which leads to much confusion. The film is also not remotely suspenseful or scary, and extremely predictable. The kills are overdramatic but not effective in the least bit.
The most frustrating aspect of this film, though, is the extremely unsatisfying conclusion. So many questions are left unanswered, including a huge part of the film that is never explained. Without getting into spoilers, there is a large aspect of the film that is teased throughout and sparks questions in the viewer’s mind and is never addressed. It feels like a betrayal of the viewer’s expectations and time. If the viewer spends the majority of the film interested in an unknown aspect of the film and then is never given a revelation, it seems like lazy writing. I seriously wonder if the filmmakers ran out of time and/or budget and just decided not to address a huge question that the film presents and instead decided to just end the film the way they did. I think many viewers would be as upset by the director’s decision as I am.
Overall, The Last Laugh does not live up to its potential and betrays our investment in the film. What could be a fun theater-related whodunit is instead a bland, uncreative, run-of-the-mill slasher with the unfortunate task of carrying an unlikeable protagonist along the way. The film can entertain to a point and is interesting at others, but does not make up for the majority of its runtime being below average. With an unappealing central character, uninteresting supporting characters, technical problems, and an unsatisfying ending, the filmmakers end up getting the last laugh over any viewer who actually invests their attention and time into the film.