Movie review: 'The Last Place on Earth'

EntertainmentMoviesTelevision28 Days Later (movie)Billy Dee WilliamsNorthwestern University

1½ stars (out of 4)

A movie of dazzling natural scenery and mind-numbing melodrama, James Slocum's "The Last Place on Earth" draws heavily from the soap opera playbook.

Midwestern writer/director/producer Slocum, who graduated from Northwestern University in 1983, brings his indie feature to Chicago for a handful of screenings. For this alone he deserves credit. Finishing a feature (not to mention dealing with the casting, financing, writing, etc.) can often be a Herculean feat. Unfortunately, this doesn't make "The Last Place on Earth" a better movie.

You can often sense a film's prospects by the claims it makes in its press kit. The more outlandish or offbeat the superlatives, the worse the movie—but I'll address that in a minute.

First, the story: As Rob Baskin (Dana Ashbrook) loses his mother (Phyllis Diller), she tells him, "Your love is in the spirals"—a statement as mystifying to him as Charles Foster Kane's deathbed "Rosebud."

His siblings chalk her final words up to morphine-induced nonsense and elect him to deposit her ashes in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in accordance with her wishes. On the road to Lake Tahoe, Rob stumbles upon Ann Field (Tisha Campbell-Martin of "My Wife and Kids" and "Martin" sitcom fame), a spunky ex-lawyer-turned-chef who catches his eye and snags his heart.

Until this point, "The Last Place on Earth" clips along nicely, despite some over-mannered acting and Slocum's propensity for writing speeches rather than dialogue.

Then the sucker punch: Ann has terminal leukemia. Slocum perpetuates the myth of symptom-free chronic illness employed by "A Walk to Remember," "Love Story" and "Sweet November"—a dishonest narrative cheap shot that rips out, rather than tugs at, the heartstrings. Once "The Last Place on Earth" morphs from a road movie to a saccharine, lip-quivering melodrama, it loses momentum and we lose all interest in Ann, Rob and his mysterious "spirals."

Now, back to that press kit.

The "unique elements" boasted of in the kit include: "A boundary-breaking film—the first interracial love story where race is not an issue"; "A location—the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest—that has never been seen before in a feature film"; "Photography—in-camera double exposure shots—that haven't been attempted in decades, and never executed with this artistic quality and clarity."

I'll grant the filmmakers their second point, mostly because I have no way to verify it, but the first is blatantly false. Movies as diverse as 1971's "The Omega Man," 2002's "28 Days Later" and even Woody Allen's recent "Melinda and Melinda" feature inter-ethnic romances. And the third point can't overstate the case more.

Although many movies use double exposures (two or more ghost-like images on the screen at once), Slocum's chief visual weaknesses stem from overuse of overlapping images. In the end, it becomes a metaphor for everything else that's gone awry in "The Last Place on Earth"—too much going on, with too little focus.

relder@tribune.com

"The Last Place on Earth"

Written and directed by James Slocum; photographed by David Dechant; production design by Shane John; music by Eric Swanson; edited by Frederick Wardell and Folmer Wiesinger; produced by Joseph Armetta and Slocum. A Panorama Entertainment release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:28. No MPAA rating.Ann Field - Tisha Campbell-Martin
Rob Baskin - Dana Ashbrook
Ken - Mitchell Anderson
Rich - Zoey Drake
Mark - Matt Farnsworth
Mrs. Baskin - Phyllis Diller
Dr. Davis - Billy Dee Williams

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EntertainmentMoviesTelevision28 Days Later (movie)Billy Dee WilliamsNorthwestern University
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