As insular as filmic in-jokes get, “La ultima pelicula” largely offers a vague spoof of Dennis Hopper’s 1971 “The Last Movie,” sometimes called the “Heaven’s Gate” of counterculture movies. In subsequent decades, Hopper’s psychedelic creation has found some deserved appreciation as, among other things, possibly the most experimental feature ever funded/distributed by a major studio. But it remains little seen, so even the thin amusement that Raya Martin and Mark Peranson eke out by mocking its on- and offscreen indulgences will fly over the heads of most viewers. Not that there will be many; commercial prospects being close to nil, their own exasperating indulgence looks headed toward a few cinematheques at best (ideally co-billed with “The Last Movie”).
Hopper had almost singlehandedly ignited Hollywood’s lust for untried young talent with the sleeper smash “Easy Rider.” He almost singlehandedly snuffed it with his follow-up, which became notorious even before its release for its seemingly rudderless Peruvian shoot and near-endless editing process, both said to be conducted heavily under-the-influence. That saga was chronicled in a documentary released the same year, “American Dreamer,” which has probably been seen by a minuscule fraction of even “Movie’s” limited viewership.
Nonetheless, seeing both films is practically a prerequisite for experiencing this collaboration between Filipino helmer Martin and Canadian critic-filmmaker Peranson, though it doesn’t necessarily make watching “La ultima pelicula” any more pleasurable. Alex Ross Perry reprises his obnoxious hipster from “The Color Wheel,” more or less, as a pompous American auteur scouting locations in Mexico for his magnum opus. It is to be “about the apocalypse” (it’s 2012, the year the Mayans predicted the world would end), as well as about “the end of film” (using purportedly the very last manufactured rolls of 35mm stock).
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But mostly, he wanders around trying to soak up the “realness” of local culture while acting like the consummate pretentious art-school-twit interloper. He’s helped in this quest by a bemused local guide (Gabino Rodriguez) and an alleged journalist (Iatzua Larios), though at first she seems to be practicing a rather older profession. He eventually uses both of them as actors, while he himself plays a sort of gringo Jesus, just as Hopper played the martyred director of the film-within-the-film known as “The Last Movie.”
From its very long false start of projection-focusing test graphics and several later “scenes missing” to its impenetrably underlit sequences and jumble of shooting formats (from 8mm to iPhone), “La ultima pelicula” means to be insufferable — albeit in a comic way — and succeeds a little too well. A few droll and/or silly moments poke through the general boredom. But Martin and Peranson’s snarkfest doesn’t really offer any critique that Hopper didn’t already aim at himself, however incoherently, in the supremely self-conscious “Last Movie.”