There’s an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where Mike and the ‘bots tackle an awful PBS-produced sci-fi thriller called Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. Yeah. It’s about a rebellious worker-drone in a futuristic dystopian who figures out how to pirate movies on his computer. He becomes obsessed with Casablanca, prompting Mike to say, “Hey! No showing scenes from a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” A similar rule could (and should) be applied to Final Move: no naming the detective in your movie after arguably the most famous private detective in fiction. Comparisons are inevitable, and in the case of Final Move, that’s a very bad thing.
Matt Schulze (The Transporter) stars as Dan Marlowe, a homicide detective whose last case drove him somewhat insane. The insanity might or might not have to do with psychic visions he sometimes gets, especially around horrific crime scenes. Why does he have these visions, and what insight does it give him? These are questions the film doesn’t explore. The visions are, basically, one of many red herrings and dead-ends the film drops in our laps to pad its running time. He sees indistinct visions of murder but doesn’t see the killer. Later, he sees a vision of the killer, but the face is covered up. All he can see are the eyes, which Marlowe swears he recognizes—but from where?
Maybe his psychic ability is worthless in the present, but apparently it led to Marlowe to solve the famous “chess murders” that plagued Los Angeles some years back. Why “chess” murders? Two reasons: the murderer has divided Los Angeles up into a grid like a chessboard. He calls up the detectives with clues about his next move, which means the next murder will take place in whichever grid he moves his next piece to. See, it’s human chess, and boy does director Joey Travolta beat the hell out of that particular hunk of overwrought symbolism. Oh, also, the killer jams a chess piece into the victim’s mouth (just in case the cops didn’t understand the subtlety of the grid).
We first meet Marlowe at a mental hospital, where his ex-partner and brother-in-law Krieg (the underrated Lochlyn Munro) springs Marlowe because he needs help. It would appear that, on the same night the chess murderer is executed, a woman is killed with the exact M.O. of the chess killer. Krieg wants to believe it’s a copycat, but whoever murdered this woman knew details never released to the press. Krieg is concerned that maybe they (and by “they,” he means Marlowe, whose psychic visions led them to the first chess murderer) put the wrong man to death. This news fills Marlowe with similar self-doubt. He reluctantly agrees to help.
His wife, played by Amanda Detmer (TV’s What About Brian?), is not terribly happy with this news. She’s happy he’s come home until she sees Krieg on television talking about the chess murders. They spend most of their scenes together fighting about the way Marlowe makes crime-solving the priority instead of his wife and diabetes-stricken daughter. Marlowe staggers around drunkenly and screams at her, but mostly he ends up sleeping in his car and not shaving.
With the help of a few other homicide detectives and celebrity guest star Captain David Carradine, Marlowe and Krieg investigate a series of fruitless leads trying to get the drop on the killer. This section of the film is rambling, episodic, and ultimately leads nowhere. At the same time, it’s the first place—other than endlessly hearing the name “Marlowe”—that we see the apparent influence of Raymond Chandler on the screenwriters. Chandler’s novels have the same type of episodic structuring, with Marlowe talking with and occasionally getting his ass kicked by a bizarre cavalcade of characters. The difference is that, more often than not, Philip Marlowe barely did any actual investigation. He’d have a few leads, but as soon as he said, “I’m a private investigator,” they’d end up tipping their hands so he knew he was on the right track, even if he had no idea where the track led. In Final Move, suspects are led into the interrogation room for some goofy, bizarre scenes, but they add up to nothing. They aren’t even tangentially involved with the crimes.
But there are some things the screenwriters do right. The midpoint (where the killer narrowly escapes the detectives at a downtown hotel) through the end is actually pretty tight, and the resolution is somewhat satisfying. From a writing standpoint, anyway. It seems weaker than it is because the film has bigger problems than a decent (but not great) screenplay.
Joey Travolta has directed a lot of movies over the past decade, but I haven’t seen any of them. Maybe detective thrillers aren’t his genre. Maybe the budget and time constraints evident throughout the movie threw him off his game. I’m not sure, but in Final Move, he tries to cover the myriad flaws with flashy editing. He also breezes past important moments for the characters to focus more intently on the crime story. The big third-act turning point is when the killer kidnaps Marlowe’s wife and daughter. This is a decent plot point, but the big moment should come when Marlowe (who’s neglected his daughter and has fought with his wife almost nonstop about it) realizes his daughter needs her medicine. This is his character’s turning point, when he finally cares less about catching the killer and more about keeping his family safe and healthy. The flat direction on this scene makes it seem like a dull, unimportant detail, when in fact it’s probably Marlowe’s most important moment of character development.
While Travolta clearly bears some of the blame for some awkward pacing, the dunderheaded chess metaphor (which seems more a product of editing-room spicing-up than poor writing), and playing up the wrong aspects, he’s not fully to blame. Matt Schulze, who’s in nearly every scene, drags the movie down a bit. He’s not a terrible actor by any means, but there are quite a few scenes where slurred speech and uncontrolled giggling make it seem like he’s more committed to the role of drunk detective than he should be. He’s either much better at playing drunk than I give him credit for, or he’s way too into The Method and/or The Whiskey.
Of course, it doesn’t help that our theoretical star is surrounded by people who act circles around him. This includes Lochlyn Munro, Amanda Detmer, the clearly-phoning-it-in David Carradine, and the big surprise of the movie—supermodel Rachel Hunter. Maybe it’s a sign of how bad the movie is when Rachel Hunter gives a revelatory performance, but…there it is. Lochlyn Munro always gives performances that are far better than the material deserves, and this is no exception. Along with Detmer, Carradine, and Daniel Baldwin (in a pointless but hilarious, bizarre cameo), Munro almost makes this move passable. Almost.
Despite the valiant effort of a few capable actors, the filmmakers have taken a screenplay a few notches above average and made it into an awful mess of a movie. What a shame.