For film buffs, ‘Pelicula’ offers humor in its insider tribute to ‘Last Movie’

How many people have seen “The Last Movie,” Dennis Hopper’s notorious 1971 follow-up to “Easy Rider”? There is no shame in having missed the film, as it’s been hard to locate since the initial flop (a failure that not only demolished director-star Hopper’s career but possibly smothered the final gasp of ’60s counterculture).

One night in the early ’80s I stayed up late to watch a TV broadcast of a Western titled “Chinchero,” only to gradually realize this was the infamous “Last Movie” itself, sneakily re-named and dumped into a late-show time slot.

The film — about a Hollywood production that leaves behind a curious legacy for natives of its Peruvian location — is gaseous and self-indulgent, yet it has a lot of intriguing moments strewn about the generally insufferable goings-on. “Rebel Without a Cause” writer and longtime Seattle resident Stewart Stern was the screenwriter, although one hesitates to ascribe credit amid reports of Hopper’s freewheeling shooting style.

This is the movie that inspired co-directors Raya Martin and Mark Peranson to concoct “La Ultima Pelicula,” a riff on Hopper’s grand folly and on subjects as lively as the end of film (because of the digital revolution) and the Mayan prediction of the world’s end in 2012.

Like Hopper’s film, “Pelicula” sniffs around various formal considerations; the movie unfolds in different formats (digital, 16 mm, 8 mm), plays with the line between fiction and documentary, and occasionally tosses a “SCENE MISSING” title on screen.

We are following, more or less, a filmmaker re-tracing Hopper’s steps in Latin America; he’s gone to Mexico to film apocalyptic-minded pilgrims and to bloviate about the end of cinema. The filmmaker is played by Alex Ross Perry, himself an indie director (“The Color Wheel”).

I’m not sure whether his physical resemblance to “Apocalypse Now”-era Francis Coppola helped decide the casting, but the associations with another self-immolating filmmaker in love with the sound of his own voice are a definite asset. Accompanied by a local guide (Gabino Rodriguez), Perry stumbles around in search of a subject as fascinating to him as himself.

Although “La Ultima Pelicula” does its share of noodling — it wouldn’t be true to its inspirations if it didn’t — it has the saving grace of self-aware humor. (That’s more than you could say for Hopper or Coppola.)

The high point of this comes when Perry leads Rodriguez around the ruins at Chichen Itza, pontificating about the group-hugging New Age tourists who don’t appreciate what is right in front of them. He may be right about that, but his own cluelessness — he’s wearing a giant cowboy hat and lecturing a native Mexican at the time — is richly drawn.

The audience for a project like this is going to be even more limited than the one that saw “The Last Movie,” but at least they’ll be the people most likely to groove on the insider-ish nature of the thing.

“La Ultima Pelicula” (two and a half stars)

A larky, reference-laden film about a pompous director (played by indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry) going to Mexico to shoot the supposed Mayan end of the world. He’s also paying tribute to Dennis Hopper’s notorious “Last Movie,” which this one sometimes emulates. It’s very insider-ish and noodles a lot, but has the saving grace of humor.

Rating: Not rated; probably R for language.

Opening: Friday at the Northwest Film Forum.

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