“Burnzy’s Last Call” offers the kind of bar which only exists in movies and TV shows: the spacious, noise free watering hole populated by an endless skein of eccentrics who spill their life stories within seconds of plopping down on the bar stool. This unambitious flick, which somehow snagged Best Dramatic Feature honors at the Atlantic City Film Festival a few years back, is a plotless string of pointless vignettes that offers the same impact as a watered down cocktail: you come to it expecting a snap and a punch and you leave disappointed that it had no sting.
“Burnzy’s Last Call” covers a day in the life of a New York dive bar, from the 10.30am opening to the wee hours shut-down. Burnzy is the aged barfly who spends his entire day in conversation and beer. It would seem the poor old fella has lost touch with the outside world a long time back–when a pair of NYU students announce they are studying film, Burnzy chuckles and asks if they plan to become movie stars “like Victor Mature.” Sam Gray plays the character without any sense of warmth or irony, and his prerequisite dramatic monologue, recounting his wartime duties at Anzio, is fairly quotidian. When Burnzy isn’t boring us, there is the non-stop parade of characters and caricatures who arrive to transact business or act silly. A greasy bookie yells in the corner pay phone about collecting overdue funds. A chubby cop with a thick Noo Yawk accent happily recounts his miscreant-fighting duties. A gorgeous Scandinavian chick orders multiple drinks, implodes with a weird temper and struts out. A rumpled Bostonian goes into convulsions watching the TV broadcast of his losing hockey team. A huge cross-dresser becomes the new pal to a trio of diminutive bald men. A mildly retarded man complains that his bicycle was stolen. And on, and on, and on.
Lacking anything that resembles drama or passion or even purpose, director Michæl de Avila endlessly cross-cuts the dull barfly monologues with snarky reaction shots by bartender James McCaffrey, whose smirking and eye-rolling become wearisome rather quickly. A few B-list stars wander in to pump up the action with overkill theatrics–David Johansen as an abusive hipster on a rampage, Chris Noth as a Mametesque con man who smells sucker, Sherry Stringfield as a too-sweet girl jettisoned by a too-stupid guy–but their overdone shtick feels like Acting 101. Forgettable music by Deborah Harry, Iggy Pop, Evan Dando and the Smithereens turn up on the soundtrack at odd moments and disappear almost as soon as they arrive.
The true disappointment with “Burnzy’s Last Call” is the sense of lost opportunities. The bar-as-a-window-on-the-world plot device has been used successfully in diverse productions such as Steve Buscemi’s “Tree’s Lounge,” the under-appreciated 1948 James Cagney version of “The Time of Your Life,” and the long-out-of-circulation 1973 John Frankenheimer version of “The Iceman Cometh.” Different generations of couch potatoes checkedinto the neighborhood bars, ranging from the yesteryear antics of “Duffy’s Tavern” to the long-running “Cheers” episodes. Compared to those offerings, the uninspired happenings in “Burnzy’s Last Call” is a small cup of flat club soda.