The Last Laugh

In my book My Year of Chevy, I argued that Chevy Chase never got the credit he deserved as an actor. Classic hits like Caddyshack and National Lampoon's Vacation played to his obvious strengths as a physical comedian, yet he was capable of so much more. The problem is that every time he showed his range, the movies ended up tanking for one reason or another. The Last Laugh validates my assertion. Chase gives one of the best performances of his career in this film, and since it's a Netflix original, it will be easy for millions of people to take a chance on.

The actor plays Al Hart, a former talent manager convinced to move into a retirement community by his granddaughter Jeannie (Kate Miccuci). There, he runs into Buddy Green (Richard Dreyfuss), who was his very first client many decades ago. Buddy abruptly quit show business right as he was on the cusp of hitting it big. Now, he cracks up the other residents with his one-liners and jokes.

Al quickly decides that he doesn't like retired life and misses working. He suggests that Buddy go out on the road for a series of gigs, leading to a possible appearance on The Tonight Show. What follows is a road-trip comedy in which Buddy smokes a lot of weed and eagerly re-finds his onstage mojo, while Al romances a free-spirited woman named Doris (Andie MacDowell) they meet along the way and desperately tries to rejuvenate his client's career.

The interesting thing about The Last Laugh is that Chase is, to a large degree, the straight man. That's not to say he doesn't earn laughs. A scene in which Al smokes pot for the first time is hilarious, as are many of the sarcastic interactions between Al and Buddy. Mostly, though, Chase is tasked with creating a character who misses what his life used to be and longs for that excitement again. He does a fantastic job of conveying how returning to management elevates Al. Retirement, to him, equals death. He's not ready to die.

Chase additionally works up some nice romantic chemistry with MacDowell. They create an easygoing rapport, quickly making us forget that Doris is a slightly generic girlfriend character, here primary to emphasize how Al is recapturing some semblance of his old life. Both performers display a lot of charm.

The risk in making a film about an aging comedian is including bad material that you don't believe anyone would chuckle at. (That dreadful Robert DeNiro picture The Comedian provides a superb example.) The Last Laugh manages to avoid this. Buddy's material is old-school, yet a lot of it is funny. Dreyfuss -- also playing against type -- sells it effectively. In fact, he really seems to be enjoying his role. That pleasure is contagious.

The story of The Last Laugh is fairly basic. It includes an obvious third-act plot twist that you're probably expecting just by reading this review. There's also a misguided musical number after Doris convinces Al to eat some hallucinogenic mushrooms. The sequence feels dramatically out of place with everything else in the movie.

Even if it doesn't reinvent the wheel, The Last Laugh works because Chase and Dreyfuss give their all to their roles. Chevy, in particular, gets the opportunity to show what he can do outside of the norm. He's more than up to the task of playing a guy who can see the sunset but has no intention of riding off into it.

3 out of 4

The Last Laugh is unrated, but contains adult language and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.