Friday April 5, 1996
Dipping its cup in the free-flowing vitriol of our current political discourse, Stacy Title's "The Last Supper" proposes a kind of Kevorkian Dining & Debating Society: If you don't like your guests' politics, put them out of your misery.
As pure concept, "The Last Supper" seems a natural for sketch comedy. Or even a short film--Title's "Down on the Waterfront," by the way, was an Oscar nominee for live-action short a few years back. But as a feature, it either needs to go completely over the edge or pursue a well-defined moral point. "The Last Supper" does neither.
It does posit one intriguing hypothetical: Suppose you're in an Austrian pub in 1909 with an art student named Adolph. He's an innocent so far, but you know who he'll be. Do you poison his schnapps? It's a thorny question with an easy answer, and it becomes the virtual mantra of five biblically named graduate students--Jude (Cameron Diaz), Marc (Jonathan Penner), Luke (Courtney B. Vance), Paulie (Annabeth Gish) and Pete (Ron Eldard)--who take to poisoning the politically dysfunctional at their weekly dinner parties.
Let's pose another question: If these five grad students fall over in the woods and no one else is there, do they make a sound? Probably not. They're too lightweight. Even their introduction to murder is an accident: Pete, whose Benz has broken down, is delivered home one night by a truck driver named Zach (Bill Paxton), who is invited to dinner. At the table, Zach reveals himself to be an anti-Semitic, racist thug who derides the group as liberal weenies and assaults Pete--until Marc stabs him in the back with a kitchen knife. Luke, the group's sole African American (and, curiously, its angriest and most devious member) asserts that they've made the world a better place--as they might have by offing young Adolph. And, after some tears and rage, the others agree.
It's difficult to tell what Title--who is hamstrung, admittedly, by Dan Rosen's wobbly script--really wants to say. The students are an unlikably pretentious lot who discuss murder the way they'd discuss the subtleties of "Hamlet" and are less secure in their own sense of personal responsibility (hence the easy answer to the Adolph question) than, let's say, the Limbaugh-esque hate-monger they watch on TV (played with smarmy assurance by Ron Perlman).
Their doomed dinner guests--a homophobic minister (Charles Durning), an anti-environmentalist (Jason Alexander), a sexist pig (Mark Harmon)--are cartoonishly loathsome, but as such they clash with the quasi-serious tone of the group's "mission," making the film seesaw uncomfortably between the grim and the goofy.
When the five lower their sights--at a priggish book burner or a 17-year-old suing her school over sex education--they've clearly lost their grip; Luke, for one, grows despotic in his blood lust. But then the film takes another turn, which virtually absolves them of guilt (there's more to this, but unfortunately it can't be given away).
Vance gives a convincing performance as Luke; you could say the others were appropriately irritating, if that were their intention. But it's never quite clear what "The Last Supper" wants to be, unless it's an endorsement of mass murder--which, even when it involves book burners, seems an extreme way of winning an argument.
The Last Supper, 1996. R, for language, and for some sexuality and violence. A Vault Inc. production, released by Sony Pictures. Director Stacy Title. Producers Larry Weinberg, Matt Cooper. Executive producer David Cooper. Screenplay by Dan Rosen. Cinematographer Paul Cameron. Editor Luis Colina. Costumes Leesa Evans. Music Mark Mothersbaugh. Production design Linda Burton. Set designer Dea Jensen. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Cameron Diaz as Jude. Annabeth Gish as Paulie. Ron Eldard as Pete. Courtney B. Vance as Luke. Jonathan Penner as Marc.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times