Bruises you, injects you, spits on you, and asks you for your autograph
The Last Minute is writer-director Stephen Norrington's (Blade) trippy examination of the search for the meaning of life and nature of art amidst the cacophony of our callow consumer culture. It follows the adventures of Billy Byrne (Max Beesley, Glitter), a flavor-of-the-moment artist who's passé before he's had the chance to acclimate to success and all its trappings. In the blink of an eye, his company changes from sycophantic agents and investors to a waifish pickpocket (Emily Corrie) and her Fagin-like boss, Grimshanks (Tom Bell). Freed from the egocentric perspective that formerly hobbled his creative impulses, and experiencing life in the gritty streets, Billy seeks a way to express the largeness of it all, to move an audience numbed by the throb and glitz of a culture bent on reducing everything to commodity. Meanwhile, he finds himself threatened by a vicious drug-dealing former crooner (Jason Isaacs, The Patriot), and creepy whippets who appear in the strangest of places.
The film is an oddly contradictory work. It's certainly smart. Its observations about the reflexive nature of postmodern art and the degenerative effects of a shallow culture that grants and rescinds fame and fortune at whim, without regard for an artist's aesthetic sensibilities (or lack thereof), are keen. Norrington is largely successful in expressing the entropy of a life focused simultaneously on boundless consumption and of offering itself up to be consumed by others. The film falls flat, though, because one never once sees Billy engaged in his art, and it leaves one wondering if Norrington has answers to the problems he presents. The Last Minute itself tells its story with the visual vim and vigor that Norrington is attempting to critique, tossing its audience into a reflexive world of speed ramping, slow motion, stylized color timing, and sequences that announce their artifice by way of their being precisely edited and choreographed to music. Norrington is grasping at the connection between style and substance in art, but so often The Last Minute itself feels like much style and little substance. Billy wants desperately to create something that transcends intelligence, delivers more than wry, ironic wit, and moves his audience emotionally. But how can he when the film in which he's a character fails to do so?
The Dickensian overtones of the flick's second half had me anticipating a dramatic shift in narrative sensibilities, a co-opting of the less self-conscious, story-for-its-own-sake Victorian style. Was this where the film would find its heart, becoming a story itself rather than just an examination of storytelling? No. Wry references to Oliver Twist are only an intellectual conceit, hinting at the nature of pure storytelling without shucking the film of its awareness of itself as film. As a matter of fact, images of grubby, thieving children living below the streets of London are such stereotypes of a bygone era, the only way the winking references to Victorian England could have been more obvious is if our hero had hooked up with a gaggle of chimney sweeps and done some musical numbers à la Dick Van Dyke. Norrington set himself a tall order in that, in the end, The Last Minute needs to be the sort of film Billy Byrne longs to make, the sort that moves us. It's not. It's the sort that never lets us forget we're watching characters navigate through fake problems in their fake lives. We're never allowed to lose sight of the fact it's only a movie.
The film is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD. The image is balanced with accurate rendering of the stylized color palette, and only the tiniest bit of haloing from edge enhancement. Source elements were clean, and detail is sharp. The audio isn't as impressive as the video. Dialogue is mixed too low in the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, maybe because it appears to have been mostly recorded during the shoot with little looping done later in a recording studio. The results are natural, but the volume of actors' voices shifts dramatically depending on how close they are to a microphone, and scenes set inside clubs with techno music are blaring in comparison. I found myself regularly adjusting the volume in order to create a comfortable viewing experience. On the plus side, the surround stage is used effectively. There isn't any directional panning, but the aforementioned club scenes, for instance, put crowd noise in both the front and rear stage so that you feel in the middle of the gyrating masses.
Lions Gate offers The Last Minute in both R-rated and unrated versions. This review is based on the R-rated edition, which runs 10 minutes shorter and offers only a theatrical trailer as an extra. The unrated version contains two audio commentaries as well as a number of featurettes.
The Last Minute delivers on style, but comes up short on substance. Stephen Norrington had lofty goals, but didn't quite pull them off. I can't recommend the film. Still, it sports stylish and dynamic cinematography, hip production design, and decent performances. If you're curious, rent don't buy.
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