A charming and low-key micro-budget film, "The Last Big Attraction" comes off as a refreshingly sweet, good-natured teen pic, even though it centers on characters in their 20s.

A charming and low-key micro-budget film, “The Last Big Attraction” comes off as a refreshingly sweet, good-natured teen pic, even though it centers on characters in their 20s. In addition to writing a script that provides a fresh take on some well-traveled comic conceits, actor-comedian turned writer-director Hopwood DePree gives a lead performance that exudes amiable, shuffle-footed charm. While the film’s rock-bottom budget — a mere $60,000 — will limit its theatrical prospects, the strong premise and solid script could be the basis for a successful teen-focused remake. Pic world-preemed at the Newport Film Festival, where it won three of the fest’s major prizes.

By mining his Wolverine roots, L.A.-based DePree comes up with a winning concept about a slacker kid poised to inherit Windmill Island, his father’s Dutch-themed roadside attraction in Holland, Mich. The theme park comes across as a half-remembered, half-dreamed locale pulled from our collective unconscious. The ’50s-style replication of a 17th century farm village comes complete with a lederhosen-clad clog squad, a traditional clog cobbler’s shop and a cheese barn with a milkable plastic cow.

The plotline is as quaint as the setting, focusing on whether 25-year-old Leed VanderWal (DePree) should keep his job in the clog shop or find his fortune in Detroit. When he finds himself enamored of a big-city cottager (Christine Elise) who’s bent on turning the dreadlocked townie into a J. Crew cover boy, he alienates his family and best friend Christopher (Richard Speight Jr.), a goofball who dips wicks in the candle shop in between bong hits. Meanwhile, Leed is being pursued by mousy Wisconsin girl Winnie (Victoria Haas), who dreams of leaving the cheese barn for a more glamorous spot on the clog squad.

While the plot unfurls, Windmill Island is slowly dying, a victim of tourist neglect in an age of glossy theme parks.

In DePree’s hands, some of story’s most familiar aspects — the Pygmalion subplot, the scene in which Leed and Christopher date mannequins to show their friends they have foxy girls — come off as fresh. His comic touch is light and refreshingly tasteful. And while some of the storylines may have originated in other films, in “Attraction” they conclude in unexpected ways.

DePree coaxes strong performances from most of his cast, with Speight and Haas the standouts. In his brief scenes as Leed’s cherubic-faced father, Max Milo epitomizes the core sweetness that makes the film so enjoyable. Only Elise, who with “Beverly Hills, 90210″ and “ER” behind her is the film’s best-known actress, comes off as unfocused and uninspired.

As for his own perf, DePree uses his doe-eyed sheepishness to great effect. Provided his film gets seen, his good looks and excellent comic timing should serve him well.

Considering the film’s cost, tech credits are fine, though pic could have done with fewer tight shots of the actors and more glimpses of a replicated Dutch village in all it plastic glory. While it’s far from big, “Attraction” is an impressive first effort for DePree.

The Last Big Attraction

Production

A Hopwood production. Produced by Michael Hagerty. Executive producers, Dana and Dori DePree. Co-producers, Tammy Kerr, Kori Eldean. Directed, written by Hopwood DePree.

With

Leed VanderWal - Hopwood DePree Chrissy Trutt - Christine Elise Winifred DeMeeker - Victoria Haas Christopher Canby - Richard Speight Jr. Uncle Ernie VanDerWal - Brenda Ballard Gregg Beeson - Michael Hagerty Claude VanderWal - Max Milo Brice Becker - O.B. Babbs Sarah LaVoe - Shana Stern
Camera (color, 16mm), Simms-n-Simms; editor, Robert Hoffman; music, Gigi Meroni; production designer, Tammy Kerr; art director, Matt Tailford; costume designer, Scarlett Jade; sound, Paul Locricio; casting, Nancy Rainford. Reviewed at Newport Film Festival (competing), June, 3, 1999. Running time: 90 MIN.
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