Last Flag Flying

Last Flag Flying ★ 1/2

Something odd happened as Darryl Ponicson and director Richard Linklater adapted the former’s 2004 novel, Last Flag Flying, to the screen. What Ponicson originally penned as a sequel to his 1970 novel, The Last Detail, has been transformed into something a bit…different. Hal Ashby memorably turned that original book into a 1973 film starring Jack Nicholson as Bad-Ass Buddusky and Otis Young as Mule Mulhall, two career Navy men tasked with delivering 18-year-old Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he’s to serve eight years in the brig. Linklater’s ostensible continuation, however, focuses on a slightly different trio of men. While still set in 2003, 30 years after the events of Ashby’s movie, Bad-Ass has become Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), while Mulhall is now Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne)—and they’re Marines, not sailors. Meanwhile, Meadows has become Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), a quiet former Navy medic who tracks down the men who escorted him to jail three decades prior to seek their help in burying his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. The trip they take in Linklater’s film parallels the one in Ashby’s, but the original trio’s personalities have been reduced to rote stereotypes. No matter how hard Cranston, Fishburne and Carell try, they can’t surpass the fact that they’ve been cast as the Drunk, the Reverend and the Introvert. The movie has moments of real power, but there’s no denying that we’re better left with fond memories of The Last Detail. (At Boston Common, Kendall Square and in the suburbs.) 

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