Just when you thought that the "Tarantino effect" was over and the sub-genre of dumb lowlife criminals has been exhausted by the indies, along comes Pater Markle's The Last Days of Frankie the Fly, a derivative, often senseless movie set in L.A.'s sleazy underworld of porn and crime. High-visibility cast, toplined by cast-against-type Dennis Hopper, as a "little man" who gets to fulfill his fantasy of revenge and redemption, 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.
It's too bad that a talented actor like Hopper gets to play leading roles in such dreary, downbeat films as the little-seen Carried Away and now The Last Days of Frankie the Fly, a movie that rehashes plot elements and characters from numerous previous works. Tyro scripter Dayton Callie, who's an established actor and playwright, sets his small picture in an overly recognizable seedy milieu. Central character is lifted from the 1955 Oscar-winning Marty, an older nebbish called Frankie, but humiliatingly nicknmaed Fly. All his life, Frankie has been pushed around to the point where his chief motivation is to gain respectability, "be somebody," as Marlon Brando–and countless 50s screen heroes–said in On the Waterfront.
Frankie (Hopper), a leg-man for the mob, is a submissive fly, servicing the creepy Sal (Michael Madsen) and his vicious sidekick, Vic (Dayton Callie). On the set of a porn movie, directed by Joey (Kiefer Sutherland), a pretentious NYU film graduate, Frankie becomes instantly smitten with sexy star, Margaret (Darryl Hannah), a former junkie, whose main ambition is to become a serious actress.
Most of the characters are bitter and down on their luck. Joey continues to boast a gluttonous appetite for the race track, despite the fact that he owes vast amounts of money to Sal. Forbidden to gamble himself, he asks Frankie to do the job for him. Margaret, too, is basically "a good girl," who came to L.A. to pursue a legit acting career, but tough circumstances dragged her down to a milieu of drugs and prostitution.
It's a measure of the picture's second-hand, movieish plot, that Margaret not only talks about her admiration for Jodie Foster, but scripter Callie borrows quite a bit from the roles that Foster and Robert De Niro played in Taxi Driver. Shy and insecure with women, in the manner of Ernest Borgnine's anti-hero in Marty, 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 The Last Days recalls a better movie it is taken from. Hence, when Sal finds out that Joey has double crossed him, he tortures him in a brutal scene that's a wretched replay of Reservoir Dogs, with Joey being blinded with a knife. The climax, in which Frankie drags Sal to a deserted area and records his killing, is preposterously written, defying any credibility.
Same can be said about the "uplifting" finale, in which Frankie fulfills his dream of scripting and directing a movie, in 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 right to be. Rest of the cast, including Hannah, as the good-bad girl, and Madsen as the frightening lord, is decent, though Sutherland unpleasantly overacts.
Good production values, particularly Phil Parmet's expert lensing, James Newport's dependable production design, and George S. Clinton's moody music, makes the familiar tale more enjoyable.