THE LAST SHOT (R, 94 minutes)

Jeff Nathanson, who wrote two terrific screenplays for Steven Spielberg ("Catch Me if You Can" and "The Terminal"), doesn't make the perfect transition to double-hyphenate filmmaker. This movie, which he co-wrote and debut-directs, shows his comedic talents in fits and starts. There are some very funny passing lines, but the movie's too uneven to enjoy. And there's something a little too cringibly self-referential about life in Hollywood. Matthew Broderick plays aspiring screenwriter Steven Schats, who thinks he has been given the directing green light of his life. A film producer (Alec Baldwin) has just agreed to produce his screenplay and is even insisting that Steven direct it. However, the whole project's a ruse. The "producer" is Joe Devine, an undercover FBI agent who's merely pretending to make a movie to entrap mobsters working in the film business. Steven's two-bit ambition is not exactly winning. And Joe's agenda isn't much more compelling. As for the movie's "knowing" commentary about Hollywood, it's neither inspired nor original. The best moments, ironically, come from an uncredited Joan Cusack, who plays a frustrated Hollywood player whose colorful language shakes up the mediocre movie around her. Contains nudity, obscenity and some violence. At Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington and Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle.

-- Desson Thomson

NICOTINA (R, 93 minutes)

In this Mexican film, Diego ("Y Tu Mama Tambien") Luna plays Lolo, a computer hacker who gets caught up in two problems. He's in love with his neighbor Andrea (Marta Belaustegui) to the point of setting up high-tech peeping devices. And with two-bit hustlers Tomson (Jesus Ochoa) and Nene (Lucas Crespi), he gets involved in a scheme to offer access to Swiss bank accounts to a Russian gangster (Norman Sotolongo) in exchange for access to a bag of diamonds. Naturally, Lolo's attempts to keep watch on Andrea get tangled up with his diamond venture. The diamonds become a sort of cheap MacGuffin in a second-rate chase movie that also includes a pharmacist Beto (Daniel Gimenez Cacho); his wife, Clara (Carmen Madrid); a barber Goyo (Rafael Inclan); and his wife, Carmen (Rosa Maria Bianchi). Director Hugo Rodriguez, an Argentine filmmaker working in Mexico, desperately wants this caper (set in real time) to be cutting edge and hip. But more often "Nicotina" skitters between dull and forced, this despite the use of split screens, jaunty music and the personable Luna. Contains some cartoon violence. In Spanish with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

-- Desson Thomson

WHEN WILL I BE LOVED (R, 81 minutes)

Like the glib, politically correct but morally suspect cameo role he plays in his new film, "When Will I Be Loved," director James Toback is what some would call, euphemistically, a B.S. artist. That's partly why, I'll wager, the filmmaker is attracted to Robert Downey Jr., an actor who has appeared in three of Toback's films ("The Pick-up Artist," "Black and White" and "Two Girls and a Guy"). Downey's brilliance at selling not just his fellow characters but the audience a bill of goods is what makes him so good -- and so perfect an instrument for the interpretation of Toback's slick but ultimately hollow brand of art film. Without the presence of the gifted performer, unfortunately, "When Will I Be Loved" collapses under the weight of its own pretension, a victim of misogyny trying to pass itself off as female sexual empowerment. Let's take "Loved," for a second, at face value. The story of one Vera (lightweight Neve Campbell, attempting heavy) -- a bisexual trust-fund-brat painter living in one of those fabulous New York apartments chosen more for its photogenic qualities than plausibility -- the movie is, on one level, about the search for identity. Vera, it is made clear from her earliest appearance (or at least the one immediately following the opening shower masturbation scene), is a searcher. The men in her life -- Toback as her new boss, a lecherous professor of African studies; Frederick Weller as her caddish hustler boyfriend, Ford; and Dominic Chianese as Count Tommaso Lupo, the aristocratic Italian business tycoon to whom Ford tries to "sell" Vera for $100,000 -- would have her believe that each of them is, as Ford says, a "mentor, a conduit, a circuit," facilitating a journey of self-discovery. So far so good. If then, as Ford tells Vera while trying to convince her to sleep with the count and to hand over the money to him, "who you are is determined by what you are capable of," then Vera is, as it turns out, quite a handful. Which leaves us finally with this answer to the question of who Vera is: a whore, a liar and arguably something much, much worse, a sociopath. If this is the new feminism, give me the bad old days. Contains nudity, obscenity, plentiful sexual content and brief violence. At the Cineplex Odeon Wisconsin Avenue.

-- Michael O'Sullivan