In the very first scene of The Last Big Thing, protagonist Simon Geist is haranguing a young couple at the local video store about “great” movies. According to Simon, there are some great movies in the “classics” section (“four of them,” he says, “were directed by Orson Welles”) and there are some more in the foreign film section. After declaring that the “new releases” section is barren, he strolls off.
Thus Simon is off on an Edward Munch-inspired tear that will give the opening reels of The Last Big Thing a ferocious energy unlike anything else currently on movie screens. Played with an unsparing intensity by writer/director Dan Zukovic, Simon Geist is a fin-de-siecle agent provocateur who uses a fictive magazine called The Next Big Thing as a pretext for interviews with up-and-coming pop culture figures (actors, models, rock groups). Once the unwitting interviewees sit down, Simon tears them apart with sardonic, deadpan relish. It would almost qualify as postmodern performance art, if only there were an audience for the spectacle besides Simon and his victim. (On one occasion, the joke is that he hasn’t even bothered to put a tape in his recorder for a lengthy interview.)
Of course, there is (theoretically) an audience for the very low-budget film made about Simon and his victims, and The Next Big Thing exudes a wild, look-at-me exuberance in its lambasting of celebrity culture and 70s decade-worship that’s awfully hard not to like. Many of the early scenes are laugh-out-loud funny, and Zukovic manages to make us care who this guy is and what’s going to happen to him. Happily, Zukovic also realizes that Simon is, fundamentally, an asshole.
The problem is that when he makes that the subject of the film — examining Simon’s dangerously askew relationship with unstable roommate Darla (Susan Heimbinder), or watching the tables get turned on him by a model (Pamela Dickerson) who’s smarter than she looks — it’s hard to differentiate The Last Big Thing from any other low-budget, self-important American independent production. As Zukovic starts to take all this stuff too seriously, the jokes start fizzling. (The one about directing a music video is especially creaky.) It would be nice to see some doors open for Zukovic, who has made a spare, startling and fitfully interesting movie (and one that sat on the shelf for two years before finding a distributor). But, sadly, The Last Big Thing (expanded from an award-winning short) wears out its welcome about halfway to the end.