[25 October 2010]
One of the first things you’ll notice about Last Day of Summer is the Scarface (the rapper, not the movie) poster on the wall. There’s a square of tape over the S, so it reads “carface” so the filmmakers didn’t have to pay a licensing fee. That right there informs you what kind of money they were working with.
Last Day is low budget and looks it, but this works to the movie’s advantage. The story is about characters that are beaten down by life and pushed into corners. A vast majority of the action takes place in two locations: a derelict burger joint, and a scummy hotel where it isn’t too shocking to see a tarantula climb out of a hole in the wall. The decaying, marginalized feel of these locations fits the material well. Unfortunately, this is all that the movie has going for it.
Joe (DJ Qualls) is a prototypical loser. He’s a gangly, nerdy high-school dropout who bounces from one menial job to the next. At one point he runs a lemonade stand, unsuccessfully, and then in a nod to his role in Hustle & Flow, he decides to produce local hip-hop acts, that is until a slow-talking rapper causes a house fire.
Joe’s path ultimately leads him to Jim’s Burger Haven, a dingy fast food shack, where his duties as part time custodian mainly consist of unclogging the toilets. His boss, Mr. Crowlick (William Sadler), bullies and harangues him, even going so far as to call the attention of the entire restaurant and present Joe with a new toilet brush on his birthday. Crowlick spends most of his time yelling, “Get the feces!”
Joe takes it for a long as he can, surviving on fantasies of violent retribution, until on, you guessed it, the last day of summer, he decides to take his revenge. He buys a gun from a pair of Russian arms dealers he finds on the internet, always a good idea, and sets his plan in motion. However, instead of unleashing his fury on the lunchtime rush, he gets distracted when Stefanie (Nikki Reed) accidentally looks at him.
As an alternative to going on a kill crazy rampage, Joe follows her because he thinks they “shared a moment”, which they didn’t, and winds up kidnapping her because she doesn’t want anything to do with him. Over the span of a few moments he goes from about to murder innocent people, to stammering about how he can never tell if a girl gave him “a sign”.
Of course the prisoner and captor form a generic, unlikely bond, and through his interactions with Stefanie, Joe realizes that his life doesn’t actually suck as bad as he thinks. It could be so much worse. The story is forced and tired, and Joe is so intrinsically unlikeable and unsympathetic as a character that you don’t care.
There are a lot of other problems with Last Day of Summer. The sporadic voiceover narration is intrusive, Joe’s violent flights of fancy get old, and the connection between Stefanie and Joe is jarring and springs out of nowhere. One minute he knocks her unconscious and ties her up in a bathtub, the next they share a joint and are pals.
After the plot veers off into the kidnapping, it occasionally cuts back to Mr. Crowlick at Burger Haven. These scenes serve no point other than to remind you that Crowlick is a jackass, already a well-established fact, and they keep the Stefanie and Joe part of the story from ever fully developing. Sadler is good in his role up to the point where the narrative shifts from revenge to abduction. He is sleazy and badgering, but once the kidnapping occurs, his performance descends into hammy scene chewing. These moments feel like filler because the filmmakers didn’t know what to do with the rest of the story.
Writer/director Vlad Yudin tries really hard to make Last Day of Summer darkly humorous. The film has a fitting look and feel, but the story is uneven, the characters are all over the place, and it simply never works. The best part of the entire film comes in the single DVD extra: a 15-minute behind the scenes feature, and the only real moment of interest is right near the end where William Sadler performs a rap about his role in Die Hard 2.