Burnzy's Last Call
Dec 1, 2022
Michael De Avila
Sam Gray, Sherry Stringfield, James McCaffrey, Chris Noth
‘Cheers’ was one of the pioneers of the American sitcom, boasting a cast that included Ted Danson, John Ratzenberger, Kelsey Grammer and Woody Harrelson, the show featured an eclectic group of characters who shared their lives at the local bar each episode. In 1995, two years after ‘Cheers aired its eleventh and final season, Michael De Avila made ‘Burnzy’s Last Call’, a film which claims to be ‘like an R-rated version’ of the beloved sitcom. Now, over 25 years on, the film - unappreciated on the first release - has been given a director’s cut, for reasons nobody other than Michael De Avila could possibly understand.
That’s because the changes to the film appear to be restricted to a far shorter length, and bizarrely interweaved with clips of the African wilderness complete with a corny, fake David Attenborough narration. The clips of nature are strange - at first posed as a comparison between the savannah’s waterhole and the local bar, but eventually becoming inane and worthless. By the time you’re watching some vultures preying on an animal carcass, the clips have lost all value, and are merely there as some ugly decoration.
The film’s focus on Burnzy (Sam Gray), one of those wise old sages who seem to frequent every bar in Hollywood, would work if he was given an ounce of character until the final five minutes. Throughout the film, he sits at the bar, for the most part observing in silence but occasionally chipping in with some sound advice. We can ascertain that he’s a decent fellow, but we’re not given anything worth caring about, meaning that when he’s given an emotional climax at the film’s conclusion, we have little to no reason to even care.
Indeed, as a variety of figures find themselves at the bar, Burnzy often fades into the background, forgotten about until the chaos of whichever patron, many are regulars at the bar, turn up. It’s a group of customers which includes the likes of Chris Noth, Sherry Stringfield, David Johansen, Michael Rispoli and Tony Todd - whose appearance as Mistress Marla is one of the film’s highlights. Despite such a group of talented actors, their characters fail to engage, falling instead into one-note stereotypes, and not probing much deeper. Barman Sal (James McCaffrey) is given even less to work with, however, by contrast, McCaffrey’s charisma instead makes Sal, in that coy way of bartender’s, slightly charming.
The characters that crop up in ‘Burnzy’s Last Call’, and indeed Burnzy himself, could well be entertaining, but such a fast nosedive into them makes that fact remiss, as, without a gold-standard script, we feel apathetic towards their respective fates. Most sitcoms, especially in the US, flounder in their first few episodes - sometimes a season in the cases of ‘The Office’ and ‘Parks and Recreation - as the audience takes time to build a rapport with its large group of characters. ‘Burnzy’s Last Call’ almost feels a bit like that first episode of a sitcom, only we know we’ll never see these characters again and so we have no reason to even try to form a connection.
‘Burnzy’s Last Call’ is a strange film and the changes in the director’s cut are even more baffling. Even without those bizarre and frustratingly redundant alterations, the film feels almost hollow, as though you watched the final episode of a long-running sitcom without ever seeing what came before. There are some hints of a funny, heartwarming film in ‘Burnzy’s Last Call’, but for the most part it is empty and monotonous, and, over twenty-five years on, feels even more formulaic than it would have felt upon its initial release.