Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mulhall (Otis Young), two Navy lifers, are assigned to transport a young sailor, Meadows (Randy Quaid), from their base in Virginia to a military prison in New England. Meadows was caught trying to steal forty dollars from the polio donation can. Not a hefty sum, but because this was a pet project of the commander's wife, young Meadows is slapped with an eight year prison sentence.
Once they discover his lack of experience in the ways of the world, Buddusky (aka Bad Ass) and Mulhall (aka Mule) decide to show Meadows a good time. They get blitzed-out drunk in Washington. They get into a brawl with some Marines in New York. And in Boston they take Meadows to a whore house where he loses his virginity.
Now that their soon-to-be-incarcerated ingénue has gotten a little taste of life, he decides he does not want to go to jail and tries to run away.
The dark side
Beauty is not always pretty. Yes, one can be swept away by a breathtaking sunset or the unadulterated joy found in a baby's smile, but when it comes to all that life has to offer, sooner or later there's going to be pain. Yet this does not diminish its power to move or transform.
Hal Ashby's "The Last Detail" (screenplay by Robert Towne, based on the novel by Darryl Ponicsan) feels like slice-of-life in its depiction of the dreary nature of these sailors' lives. They wander the streets, looking for a place to eat. They check into a cheap motel and watch old movies in their skivvies. Michael Chapman's cinematography delivers a gritty, gray landscape. Long, slow dissolves between some shots heighten the aimlessness of their world. One might ask if there's anything they have to look forward to.
The bright side
It is also a world brimming with life. The language is raw, explosive and funny. Nicholson, as Bad Ass, is the smallest of the trio in stature, but the energy and the pent-up anger in his character make him larger than life. Instead of stretching the envelope, he claws at it, looking to provoke any minor rebellion against authority and temporarily break the oppressive shell that defines his existence.
Under the tutelage of Bad Ass, Meadows begins to show hints of growth. Unfortunately, with this maturity comes the awareness that he will soon be deprived of the very pleasures he's been able to enjoy over the last few days. And that is when he tries to flee.
A drinking binge, a brawl in a public restroom, and a night at a whore house may not be things to write home about, but they give Meadows a taste of what it means to be alive. There is an ironic beauty in such a liberation. And as irony would have it, the seeds of his liberation will bear the bitter fruit of his downfall.
Enjoy this review? Receive e-mail alerts when new reviews and articles are available. Just click on the "Subscribe" button above.
To read more reviews and articles by Michael Ballard, CLICK HERE.