The Last Detail Reviews
Before he was a personality, Jack Nicholson was an actor. In many of his more recent films, Jack has played Jack, the smarmy, over-confident lady-killer with a devilish smile. But before "Jack," Nicholson did films like Carnal Knowledge and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. The Last Detail has a lot of "Jack" moments in which Nicholson gives us his characteristic smarm and bucks authority with abandon, but the scene in which Nicholson's character, Buddussky, talks about a Meadows's milquetoast response to injustice, we see a pit of rage released, and throughout the rest of the film, Buddusky's anger at the world comes to the forefront in all his antics. Yes, he wants to show Meadows a good time before Meadows goes to prison, but mostly, Buddusky wants revenge against the world. In this way, Nicholson creates a real character, not a persona, and what could have been a lame buddy road comedy turns into a decently substantive film.
Randy Quaid is quite good in an "aw, shucks" Charlie Brown kind of way, and he even handles the dramatic scenes well.
Overall, it's the young Jack Nicholson who makes this film, and viewers of my generation who never got to know him as an actor should check out this classic.
Two career Navy men, "Bad-Ass" Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and "Mule" Mulhall (Otis Young) are commissioned to escort young kleptomaniac Meadows (Randy Quaid) to the brig for petty theft. En-route, the two lifers realise that young Meadows is actually quite a naive and innocent young man, who hasn't experienced much of life. Before they deliver him to an eight year sentence in prison, they decide to show him a good time and teach him a little of life's pleasures.
"...I knew a whore once in Wilmington. She had a glass eye... used to take it out and wink people off for a dollar." Where else can you get a quote like that, delivered in such dead-pan style from the great Jack Nicholson? In fact, for that matter, most of Nicholson's performances deliver at least one choice quote. His career is full of them and few can deliver a line like he can. If you appreciate such moments, then this film delivers plenty of them. It's mainly dialogue driven and character based, providing another classic Nicholson performance. As well as, fine support in Otis Young and a young Randy Quaid. All three of them are an absolute joy to spend time with. The dialogue is razor-sharp from screenwriter Robert Towne (a year before another 70's classic "Chinatown) and director Hal Ashby skilfully combines the comedy and the drama to near perfection. Ashby was a director that consistently delivered superb human drama's throughout his career ("Harold And Maude" and "Coming Home" are a couple of notable ones) but he didn't quite get the plaudits or reputation that his peers received. However, with films of this calibre, his abilities still stand the test of time.
Humour and pathos can be a marvellous combination when done right and Ashby certainly does that... he gets it spot on.
It may be their 'Last Detail' but I for one, wish it was their first.
The film stars The Jack, who garnered a best actor nom (but lost to the other Jack (Lemon) for his role in Save The Tiger). The direction (by Hal Ashby, who also directed Shampoo, Harold and Maude and Being There) is simple, straight forward, and aimed at realism; as films tended to be in the 70's.
Nominated for best screenplay as well, the film throws in a bit of social commentary, especially when Nicholson puts the peddle to the metal in dressing down a "cracker" bartender (remember, we're less then 10 years removed from all the civil rights protests). The film also skewers the military power structure and, in a offbeat moment, lampoons fad religions (in fact, you could say it is this fad religion, based on chanting some mystical mumbo jumbo to get what you want, is what drives the second half of the film. In a wonderfully written touch, simpleton Meadows (who is headed for an 8 year stint in the clink for attempting to rob 40 bucks out of a charity drop box that is the base commander's wife's pet project) chants to get laid. Low and behold a female "follower" of the religion overhears him and invites Meadows and his two MPs over to her place for a party. She takes Meadows upstairs and everyone believes that his wish is about to come true... but the follower instead starts earnestly chanting, wishing that he somehow escapes prison.
Meadows finally gets his wish, thanks to Jack, who decides that the 18 year old needs a woman before he gets buggered in prison. The trio finds a whorehouse and Meadows is introduced to Carol Kane, who, ahem, assists him in his quest.
In a way, this is a buddy film, showing the odd bonding of the trio as they travel by train, plane and... bus to get to a destination they all are in no hurry to get to.
Quaid was nominated for best supporting actor (losing to John Houseman for Paper Chase) for his seamless portrayal of the non-too-bright Meadows, giving the film a certain charm to balance the crusty, yet man with a soul, Nicholson.
The realistic nature of the filming is both a blessing and a curse. You really believe you are a fly on the wall, just watching the three main characters as they interact (and I should mention Otis Young, who does a fine job as the third musketeer); but the sound editing is horrible, with way too much background noise interfering with the dialog. Again, this is part and parcel of the era in which the film was produced.
Aside from the 3 amigos, there is some suspect acting in bit parts, especially in the beginning sequences taking place at the navy base which prevent me from rating this higher, (although some of the bit parts later are well done, especially Nancy Allen (as the religious party girl)and Carol Kane).
I should also mention, just as an aside, that there is a very small speaking role (as one of the fad religion groupies) by the late great comic Gilda Radner (and if you don't know of whom I speak, then you must have missed the golden age of Saturday Night Live).
As the two MPs walk out of the picture, mission more or less accomplished, you can reflect back on where they've been and what they've learned and wonder, in a larger context, if we can't all do the same.
But, as all great things in life, duty soon becomes joy, and these adventurous trio surely won't forget the fantastic initiation journey they embarked on.
However the "I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker! I am the motherfucking shore patrol! Give this man a beer!" scene is genius