Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Giving LAST CHANCE HARVEY A Chance (New DVD Review)

LAST CHANCE HARVEY (Dir. Joel Hopkins, 2008) On Vacation in Las Vegas last month, I picked up a book titled "Best Movies of the 70's" by Prof. Dr. Jürgen Müller at the gift shop at Madame Tussauds. It's a thick book filled with great glossy film stills surrounded by classy scholarly text. Though it's hardly definitive (What, no NETWORK? No MEAN STREETS?) it makes a good case for Dustin Hoffman being the face of 70's cinema. Hard to argue as his mighty run through that decade included the likes of LITTLE BIG MAN, STRAW DOGS, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, PAPILLON, MARATHON MAN, and STRAIGHT TIME. Lately though, Hoffman hasn't really made much of a dent in moviegoer's memories with family fare like MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM or in cruder family fare as Ben Stiller's father Bernie Focker so it would be nice to have the man who was once a major player back in a quality character study drama. LAST CHANCE HARVEY luckily isn't his last chance for this, because while it's a fine cute comic valentine it's still not going to make a dent. However, for those who missed Hoffman's particular brand of quiet charm disguising heartache, it'll do quite nicely for now. "I missed the plane, I lost my job, and my daughter, who's getting married today, decided that she wanted her stepfather, rather than me, to give her away, okay?" Hoffman piles on the pity to Emma Thompson as a customer service airline rep he at first rudely dismissed. He's a jazz pianist turned commercial jingle writer who was told harshly by Richard Schiff (The West Wing) that "there are no more chances". Despite Hoffman's doomed demeanor and Thompson's pithy reluctance their meet-cute morphs into a day of getting to know each other in a sunnier than usual London, BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET-wise with a bit of ABOUT SCHMIDT thrown in for good measure - the scenario of the aging sad sack going to his estranged daughter's wedding, that is. Not to say this is anywhere as good as those movies, just that it has a pleasantly familiar framework. Hoffman's ex-wife (Kathy Bates) is happily not a character made for you to hate, but an agreeable yet weathered woman who has long moved on. James Brolin as her husband dressed in a white tuxedo looks like he just suavely stepped out of a James Bond audition but somehow doesn't intimidate Hoffman or make awkward waves in any respect. Nice touches like these and the natural feeling of the banter all make this a movie that breezes by. Hoffman and Thompson effortlessly walk through the rom com plotting with a good sense of the cheekiness involved. LAST CHANCE HARVEY is highly likable, though it wouldn't be missed at a Dustin Hoffman film festival (or a Emma Thompson one either for that matter), it is a nice reminder of the presence and poise of one of the finest actors ever, especially since it looks like he's going to get Focked again. More later...

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