Athriller about the hunt for the carrier of a virulent strain of venereal disease in World War II-era New Zealand, “The Last Tattoo” doesn’t really deliver enough thrills and suspense to overcome its inherently sordid, though intriguing, theme. It may perform on its home turf, but elsewhere probably won’t raise a great deal of excitement outside the video market.
Kerry Fox, who has done better work for directors Jane Campion and Gillian Armstrong in the past, plays Kelly, a nurse attached to the Hygiene Dept. Her job is to work with the Americans, many of whom are on leave in Kiwiland after rugged fighting in the Pacific, and with local brothels to keep VD under control.
Story begins with the murder of a Marine and the disappearance of his g.f., an ex-prostitute. Kelly discovers that both the wife of a prominent local politician and the missing girl carry a hitherto unseen strain of gonorrhea. The carrier has to be found, but meanwhile the murderer, a hit man for a local union (played with menace by John Bach) is after the missing girl.
Kelly, who has seen too much of the downside of sex in her daily work, teams with an eager-beaver Marine captain (Tony Goldwyn) to solve the mystery, and the trail eventually leads to high places. Indeed, the plot ultimately hinges on an attempt by a senior American officer to blackmail the politician, who might be the next New Zealand prime minister, presumably to ensure the postwar cooperation of the Kiwi government.
Director John Reid handles some scenes with flair, but editor John Scott’s overall pacing is too sluggish, resulting in an overlong running time. Notably, the inevitable romance between Fox and Goldwyn, which is a long time coming, is pretty tepid.
Performances are variable, with Rod Steiger more controlled than usual as the senior U.S. officer in Wellington and Robert Loggia suave as his No. 2. Fox eases into her role after an awkward start, but never seems entirely at ease with her character, while Goldwyn is an OK hero. In the supporting cast, Tony Barry is a standout as a devious union official.
Production design (Ron Highfield) and costumes (Barbara Darragh) are first-class and lend needed authenticity to the yarn.