This video chronicle of Robert Downey Jr.’s trip to the 1992 Democratic National Convention wants to issue a call-to-arms to “generation X” but plays like a pretentious vanity piece as much as a political tract. Pic is opening in selected markets, but box office should be limited even on the arthouse circuit, enjoying less circulation than the last out-of-focus video featuring a young actor at a political convention four years earlier.
There is some irony, of course, that the 1988 convention became infamous for the pirate Rob Lowe video, taken by many as a symbol of the decadence of the 1980s. “The Last Party” may represent a recoil effect toward greater political consciousness, but no less self-gratification.
The film was directed by Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin, documentarians whose credits include some of Bill Moyers’ PBS specials. It could have been an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at the Democratic and Republican conventions but gets sidetracked by focusing on Downey and how everything affects him, to which we can only reply, “Who cares?”
Emphasis on the actor’s life and recollections, in fact, raises the question whether this is supposed to be about issues facing a post-Cold War America or about Downey, the suddenly conscious political animal, who lacks the kind of massive star appeal needed to justify this kind of vehicle.
Downey and crew certainly put considerable time into the effort, engaging in a vast array of interviews.
Unfortunately, what’s lacking is any real connecting theme, other than who’s asking the questions.
Hollywood denizens turn up as background players, adding to the self-aware, home-movie feel. Those on hand include Mary Stuart Masterson (Downey’s co-star in “Chances Are,” her apparent qualification to serve as spokeswoman for her generation), Sean Penn, Richard Lewis, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Christian Slater and William Baldwin.
Aside from the lack of a linear through-line, there are more basic foul-ups. The filmmakers only sporadically identify subjects, a particular disservice to those who might not recognize Sen. John Kerrey or G. Gordon Liddy.
As it happens, for all the preoccupation about awakening twentysomethings, the older generation steals the show — namely, the gruff, foul-mouthed Robert Downey Sr., who cuts to the core of political issues while displaying genuine affection for his son that, alas, belongs in a better (or at least different) movie.
“The Last Party” captures a few ironic sidelights to the conventions, such as a stripper who proclaims herself “a registered Republican” while hosing off between numbers. More profound moments are spread sparingly among the detritus, but it’s nothing you couldn’t see some variation of nightly on “The CBS Evening News.”
There’s room for an intelligent documentary delineating the fractious nature of modern America and where young citizens fit in, but this isn’t close to it. Instead, we’re served a poor-man’s version of MTV’s “The Real World,” documenting the summer vacation of a young actor who’s decided he wants to make a difference.
The aim is understandable and even laudable, but from an entertainment standpoint, that Rob Lowe video has this “Party” beat hands down.