Armed with enough petrified earnestness to make “Gettysburg” seem like a Mel Brooks movie, “The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams” might well have appeared noble on the page but is undone by a thorough lack of visual craft. Written and directed by and starring the CSA officer’s descendants, this adventure-romance might recoup through savvy Internet marketing of the DVD — there are enough Civil War re-enactors in the film to buy up a first burn — but theatrical biz will be deservedly tiny.
Any number of reasons exist not to believe anything happening here, in alleged 1864: modern haircuts, modern dentistry and clothing that looks like it came off the rack at an antebellum JC Penney.
Race relations, however, are the first tipoff that we’re in a revisionist wonderland: Establishing shots display well-dressed children, black and white, frolicking together on plantation lawns; besuited black men play chess with their supposed oppressors. Why, we wonder, did we fight a dang war anyhoo? “To make a better life,” someone tells transplanted Yankee Eveline McCord Adams (Gwendolyn Edwards), for whom Robert Adams runs a “Cold Mountain”-esque gauntlet after he’s captured and abused by psychopathic Northern soldiers.
“The Last Confederate” was clearly made as a tribute by the current Adamses to their courageous ancestor: Co-helmer Julian Adams is the title hero’s great-great-grandson; Julian’s father is Weston Adams, who produced and co-wrote. Many more Adamses populate the credits. But the music is overripe, the cinematography has no integrity, and the acting is generally abysmal — Amy Redford is her usual solid self as Eveline’s sister-in-law, but what seem like one-take cameos from Tippi Hedren and Mickey Rooney only emphasize the general poverty of direction.
Unless everyone from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Shelby Foote has been lying to us, the pic’s attempt to portray the slave economy of the Old South as some kind of day camp isn’t just inept, but offensive. Chalk it up, perhaps, to familial passion that “The Last Confederate” tries to cast its hero in the best light, with a vastly ennobled backdrop.
Production values, such as they are, are clean, bright and unengaging.