Just when you thought the “Tarantino effect” was over and the subgenre centered on dumb lowlife criminals was exhausted by the indies, along comes Peter Markle’s “The Last Days of Frankie the Fly,” a derivative, often senseless movie set in L.A.’s sleazy underworld. High-visibility cast, toplined by cast-against-type Dennis Hopper, elevates the film a notch above the routine crimer, but it’s doubtful that a major distributor would take a risk on a picture that’s basically plotless and vastly uneven in execution.
Tyro scripter Dayton Callie, who’s an established actor and playwright, sets his small story in a familiarly seedy milieu. Most of the characters are bitter and down on their luck. Central character, a “little man” who gets to fulfill his fantasy of revenge and redemption, is an antihero lifted from “Marty.” Frankie (Hopper) is an older nebbish, shy and insecure with women, who’s humiliatingly nicknamed Fly. All his life he’s been pushed around, to the point where his chief goal is to gain respectability, to “be somebody,” like Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront,” and countless other ’50s screen heroes.
A leg man for the mob, Frankie submissively works for the creepy Sal (Michael Madsen) and his vicious sidekick, Vic (writer Callie). On the set of a porn movie, directed by Joey (Kiefer Sutherland), a pretentious NYU film school graduate, Frankie is instantly smitten with sexy star Margaret (Daryl Hannah), a former junkie whose main ambition is to become a serious actress. Basically a “good girl,” she came to L.A. to pursue a legit acting career, but tough circumstances dragged her into drugs and prostitution.
Joey meanwhile, has a gluttonous appetite for the racetrack, despite the fact that he owes huge amounts of money to Sal. Forbidden to gamble himself, he asks Frankie to do the job for him.
It’s a measure of the picture’s secondhand, movieish plot that not only does Margaret talk about her admiration of Jodie Foster, but scripter Callie borrows quite a bit from the roles Foster and Robert De Niro played in “Taxi Driver.”
Frankie becomes obsessed with salvaging Margaret from the corrupt clutches of Sal, a staple character in indie crime movies of the last decade.
Almost every sequence in “Last Days” recalls a better movie. When Sal finds out that Joey has double-crossed him, he tortures him and blinds him with a knife in a brutal scene that’s a wretched replay of “Reservoir Dogs.” The desert climax is preposterously written, defying credibility. Same can be said about the “uplifting” finale, in which Frankie fulfills his dream of scripting and directing a movie — a subplot inspired by “Get Shorty,” albeit without the latter’s droll wit or dark humor.
The movie is not poorly directed, but first part is badly structured, consisting of set pieces that are meant to impress rather than involve. Hopper gives a remarkably full-bodied performance that makes the material more engaging than it has a right to be. Rest of the cast is decent, though Sutherland overacts unpleasantly.
Good production values, particularly Phil Parmet’s expert lensing, James Newport’s dependable production design and George S. Clinton’s moody music, make the familiar tale more enjoyable.