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'The Last Kiss'

MoviesEntertainmentPaul HaggisDeathRachel BilsonZach BraffEric Christian Olsen

"The Last Kiss" is directed by Tony Goldwyn and written by Paul Haggis and based on the Italian movie "L'Ultimo Bacio." Unlike the Italian movie, this one is set in Madison, Wis., which has never looked more elegant or more temperate, or less Midwestern and fringy and bohemian than it does here. When a character mentions quitting his job at the cheese factory, I thought for a second he was referring to a cute gourmet shop. At one point, the protagonist refers to his girlfriend's breasts as her "breasts." Needless to say, no O's were flattened in the making of this picture.

That's not to suggest that Madison is not a nice place, just that "The Last Kiss" feels terminally generic and tone-deaf. An ensemble drama about four male friends warily facing adulthood at the advanced age of 29, the movie feels weirdly asynchronous. There's something about "Last Kiss," beginning with its eye-rollingly mournful title, that smacks of a previous generation's nostalgia for the salad days — a nostalgia that's been amply dramatized already. It's not that the guys seem too old to be clinging to adolescence, they just seem too young for all their sweater-clad grimness. The events may be on track, but the existential despair smacks of midlife. I kept waiting for Alan Alda to show up.

Zach Braff and Jacinda Barrett play Michael and Jenna, a couple who have just found out they are expecting a baby. This being Madison in the 21st century, Jenna's parents (played by Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner) thrill at the news, even though the kids aren't married yet. This being a minor nod to Barry Levinson's "Diner," however, Michael turns to stone at the mention of marriage (Jenna is reduced to calling it "the M-word"), even though they already live together in a large, catalog-decorated duplex next door to a gay, biracial couple and spend plenty of quality time with the virtual in-laws. Despite having been deeply imprinted by "thirtysomething," apparently as a small child, Michael actually lets phrases such as "I'll marry you when you can name five marriages that have lasted more than five years" escape his lips. Unfortunately for Jenna, the only couple she can come up with are her parents, Stephen, a psychiatrist, and his aptly named wife, Anna. And they aren't doing so well. Anna's constant demands for attention include asking such things as, "What would you do if I died?" (He: "I'd iron my dark suit.") Soon, she is moving out, looking up an old lover and sobbing on a treadmill.

If Michael is losing it, his friend Chris (Casey Affleck), with whom he works at a trendy architecture firm, is two steps ahead of him. Tortured by a harpy wife and a constantly screaming baby, Chris spends a lot of time in the bathroom contemplating divorce. Izzy (Michael Weston), meanwhile, is reeling from having been dumped by his girlfriend and wants to travel to South America on a motorcycle. (He eventually settles for an RV.) Meanwhile, Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) bartends for a living, sleeps around for fun and turns heel and scrams at the slightest whiff of commitment.

At the wedding of a fifth friend, Michael is approached by a pretty college sophomore named Kim (Rachel Bilson), whose appearance at the event is never quite explained. ("My friends wanted to leave as soon as we got here," she tells him, as though they'd mistaken it for a bar and wandered in.) Kim takes Michael's mute stiffness as a sign to extend an invitation to meet her after class, which he stiffly accepts. All of this stiffness is meant to indicate Michael's guilt-ridden ambivalence, caught as he is between the "perfect woman" at home and the "little brunet" who keeps trying to lure him away, but it just makes him look like a passive-aggressive creep — as does, come to think of it, almost everything he does and says.

And what of Jenna and the other girls? Let's just say that the movie makes it clear that hormones and exhaustion/betrayal/disappointment don't mix. Jenna is cruelly divested of all of her romantic illusions in the span of a few days, but where the experience takes her is hard to say. Like her mother and her friends, she mostly just reacts. From menopausal mom to boy-crazy sophomore, the women in "Last Kiss" are so unstable, so needy and so reckless it's a wonder anybody survives them. They'll throw perfume bottles at your head. They'll show up at work and try to give you presents. They'll get crazy with the cutlery. They'll try to introduce you to their parents. Tierra del Fuego, here you come.

I could be wrong, but it seems unlikely that Michael's domestic and professional setup would elicit the same acute dread in people in their 20s as it did for their parents. The archetype of the vaguely-dissatisfied-successful-creative-professional-in-a-sweater-who-has-it-all-but-just-doesn't-know-it-yet is as moldy as they come; and fear of financial stability is not quite as rampant as it once was. In one scene, Michael accompanies Kim to a dorm and tells her "You make me feel 10 years younger." Is there really a 29-year-old guy on the planet who would say this to a teenager he wants to sleep with? If so, this is the movie for him. Maybe he'll be able to identify with Michael's fear of "no more surprises" too, now that the world is so full of such nasty ones.

MPAA rating: R for sexuality, nudity and language. A Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks release. Director Tony Goldwyn. Screenplay Paul Haggis. Based on the motion picture "L'Ultimo Bacio" written by Gabriele Muccino. Director of photography Tom Stern. Editor Lisa Zeno Churgin. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. In general release.

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