In the mid-90s, Michael de Avila’s feature film, Burnzy’s Last Call, was a staple of the Sundance Channel and its exclusivity deal with Blockbuster Video. Now whittled down to one last Blockbuster, de Avila’s movie was seemingly lost forever until he was able to unearth the original print, remaster it, and finally transfer it to digital. Today, Burnzy’s Last Call has found new life.
Set in 1989, Burnzy’s Last Call is the story of the patrons of a Manhattan watering hole known as Eppie’s Bar. Behind the counter is its bartender, Sal (James McCaffrey), who every day tends to an unusual cast of characters as the titular Burnzy (Sam Gray) sits reflectively and observes the action.
Running at just under fifty minutes, the drama is a series of seemingly random conversations amongst its patrons. De Avila describes it as an “R-Rated version of Cheers.” Amongst these characters are a trio of balding businessmen buying drinks for any lady walking into the joint, even the intimidating drag queen, Mistress Marla (Tony Todd). Michael Rispoli is Chris, the cop, who says he’s off-duty but is he?
A Scandinavian bombshell comes in and orders a few drinks before titillating the crowd. There’s also a pair of cinema students, a mentally challenged man, and his mom. The drama is heightened with the arrival of Kevin (Chris Noth), a corporate con man who promises high returns for each sucker’s investments. Now add Luke (Michael Masse), who is in deep with a bookie over some bad hockey bets.
“past. Can Sal find salvation in the sweet Jackie…”
Holding the action together is bartender Sal. He serves as the point of contact for each character and finds sympathy and empathy for his regulars stemming from his troubled past. Can Sal find salvation in the sweet Jackie (Sherry Stringfield), who wonders if she’s been stood up on her blind date?
Made in 1995, Burnzy’s Last Call is not your typical New York picture. The plot is simply a series of conversations you might overhear at your favorite bar. These talks are a reflection of the prosperity and tireless attempts to prosper that the 80s were most known for. You have the businessmen in the corner trying damn hard to appear more successful than they are. Kevin is the guy who sells surefire investments like snake oil. Luke is looking for that big bet, that lotto ticket as the fast track to riches. Sal fell in life long ago. All roads lead to Burnzy and why he spends each day sitting in the bar and watching… always watching.
Your mileage may vary, as the movie is a series of seemingly random conversations that appear to reflect the culture of Manhattan in the late 80s. It feels much more like a play than a feature film. You really have to engage in what’s being said to find the meat. It’s pretty cool to see a mix of veteran actors (i.e., Tony Todd) and some soon-to-be well-knowns in Chris Noth, Sherry Stringfield, and Michael Rispoli.
My only issue is its short runtime, which prevents these conversations from developing in meaningful ways. The narrative does wrap itself up in the end with its poignant commentary on greed and Burnzy’s final reflection. There’s enough nostalgic meat on the bone with Burnzy’s Last Call for fans of low-budget indies, particularly from its heyday in the 90s.
For screening information, visit Burnzy’s Last Call official website.
"…an R-Rated version of Cheers."