The 'last' resort: The ultimate in film title folly
The release of M Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender has reminded me that, with few notable exceptions, most movies with “last” in the title are really bad.
Shyamalan’s latest release is always aggressively advertised as “An M Night Shyamalan film”. This is a generous, conscientious act on the part of the producers, but it is also a cunning ploy from the consumer-protection standpoint, because it means that moviegoers who have voluntarily paid to see daft offal such as The Village or The Happening or Unbreakable or Lady in the Water can’t turn around and say: “Hey! Why didn’t someone warn me that The Last Airbender was an M Night Shyamalan film?” The phrase “An M Night Shyamalan film” is like a brightly lit road sign reading: “Serious accident ahead. Bridges collapsed. Roads washed away. Hundreds dead. Use alternate route. No, seriously.”
With The Last Airbender, his latest incursion into the realm of the enigmatically inane, Shyamalan has added yet another worthy entry to one of the motion picture industry’s most reliable genres: Incredibly Bad Movies with Titles Containing the Word “Last”. The 1990s was a golden age of such films, with Bruce Willis a repeat offender in The Last Boy Scout and Last Man Standing, his putrid remake of the Japanese classic Yojimbo. The Last Action Hero was certainly one of the worst big-budget movies made and Last of the Dogmen, a motion picture about a dying race of extremely disagreeable anthro-pooches, was certainly no slouch when it comes to bad Last films.
Rounding off this daunting 1990s line-up were The Last Supper, a film about preposterously self-absorbed vigilantes; Last Summer in the Hamptons, a Henry Jaglom project in which nothing much happens, even by Jaglom’s cataleptic standards; and The Last Time I Committed Suicide, a Keanu Reeves flick based on a letter written to Jack Kerouac by Neal Cassady, the beatnik who inspired On the Road.
Extremely bad movies about “the last” this or “the last” that have been a staple of the industry for decades. Stand-outs include Last Woman on Earth, Roger Corman’s 1960 stinker about a doomed post-nuclear romance; The Last Safari, a 1967 film about a professional hunter who doesn’t enjoy his work any more; and The Last Outpost, a 1951 horse opera starring Ronald Reagan as a Civil War veteran who must unite with his estranged brother to kill Indians, cut taxes and reduce the size of the federal government.
The very presence of the word “last” in a movie title is usually a warning that hours of sheer misery lie ahead: The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961), The Last Married Couple in America (1980), The Last Grenade (1970). Not to mention The Last Movie, the addled, incomprehensible 1971 American-Peruvian disaster that derailed actor-director Dennis Hopper’s career for the next 15 years.
Not all movies purporting to be “the last” are bad. Josef von Sternberg’s silent film The Last Command is a masterpiece. François Truffaut’s The Last Metro is a touching cinematographic paean to Catherine Deneuve’s gorgeous face. And The Last Picture Show, The Last Days of Disco, The Last Detail, The Last Tycoon and several films entitled The Last of the Mohicans are very fine indeed. Bernardo Bertolucci, amazingly, made two high-quality Last films: Last Tango in Paris and The Last Emperor, as did Martin Scorsese (The Last Waltz, The Last Temptation of Christ).
But for every Last Angry Man there is at least one Last Hard Men; for every Last Year at Marienbad there are two Last of the Mobile Hot Shots; and for every Last Wave there are half a dozen films with names such as Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Last Remake of Beau Geste and The Last Days of Frankie the Fly.
This raises the obvious question: what were the next-to-last days of Frankie the Fly and Chez Nous and Disco and Pompeii like?
Sounds like a question for Shyamalan.—Joe Queenan