Want to know what's more depressing than an untimely death? According to Judge Bill Gibron, it's watching a sloppy teen sex comedy on the subject.
One Last Thing … is a mess, a movie that's not quite sure if it wants to be a torrid teen sex comedy or a meaningful meditation on death. At its core is the dim dying wish of its central character, Dylan, an aspiration that's part symbolic, part softcore pornographic. The notion of a high school sophomore with raging cancer wanting his final days to be spent with a superhot supermodel may seem sensible in a kind of over-girded gonad line of thinking but, logistically, it's not really rational. Though his cells are ceasing on him, someone needs to slap some sense into this hormonally hopped-up moron. We keep hoping there's something more to this ambition than sex, but when we learn that Dylan just adores the object of his affection as a pure element of fulfilling fantasy, we scoff more than sniffle. This tragic terminal case obviously hasn't watched enough Lifetime Television. If he had, he'd learn that all those gorgeous gals who strut and fret their hinder upon the runway are really screwed-up chicks with familial issues and egos as large as their dinners are small. Dylan is just asking for disappointment and Sunny Mabrey's cynical Nikki does not fail to frustrate. As a matter of fact, the only way she can make up for 80 minutes of miserable treatment is to go gooey, and then jailbait, on our hero. The result is an ending that smacks of stupidity and staging, never once touching on the truth of such a sick kid/dream date situation.
Yet buried somewhere inside all the adolescent snigger and goofy gallows humor is a potentially good idea. Just as he did with the dismal Prey for Rock and Roll, second-time director Alex Styermark avoids a consistent, practical tone. At one moment we are suffering through the white-male ardor of Dylan's dorkified friends, the next we are dealing with some middling magic realism. As for his pathetic pals, no 15-year-old thinks of poon as often as these patsies, yet the film relies on them for most of its hackneyed humor. Every conversation that Dylan has with his mother (a horribly haggard Cynthia Nixon) ends in some Gahan Wilson-esque sick joke, as our cancerous Candide argues for his need to experience his lifelong yearning before said existence is biologically cancelled. As the narrative arc hees and haws like a ship out during a perfect storm, we wonder why anyone would need to sit through this dreck. We aren't learning more about Dylan's character—he's an incurable horndog, in more than one way. Nor is the notion of dying before one's time giving anything more than lackadaisical lip service. About the closest we get to some manner of message is when Dylan stumbles into a holistic healing shop run by, as he describes it, "some crazy dude in a dress." Sadly he has nothing but fortune-cookie philosophy to dispense.
The script by Barry Stringfellow, whose previous credits as a writer for The Angry Beavers and Perfect Strangers make him an excellent choice to plum the depths of mortality, is a collection of clichés locked in mortal combat with semi-original situations. When Dylan is asked why he wants a weekend with Nikki, his "what's the good in dreaming if you can't have what you want" sounds like a slogan for the Paris Hilton Finishing School and the strip club set piece where pals Slap and Ricky pump $100 bills into a couple of bimbos' G-strings is about as subtle as the aforementioned skank socialite. Indeed, everything about One Last Thing … is heavy handed and obvious. Cornering the market on grief-induced crows' feet, Cynthia Nixon tries to rise above the material to play the unluckiest lady in the known universe. Having already buried a beloved husband (an uncredited Ethan Hawke as a combination guardian angel and gimmick), she tries to maintain a modicum of dignity as her son makes light of his upcoming dirt nap. Yet their discussions are all diversion, never getting to the heart of anything important. Since Nikki is a non-entity, a collection of stereotypes (in short, a bitchy pill-popping alcoholic diva) in search of a soap opera, we could care less if she ever has a change of heart. Instead, we wait to see how One Last Thing … handles Dylan's death. Not surprisingly, it's as clumsy as the rest of this inconsistent cinematic stumble.
Out on DVD as part of Magnolia's novel day-and-date distribution deal, One Last Thing … hit brick-and-mortar shelves a mere three weeks after it limped into a few unfortunate theaters. The digital treatment here is terrific—the film looks great in its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. While Styermark is no visionary (he's in love with the TV-friendly medium shot), the colors are correct and the details dense. We even get a chance to see actor Michael Angarano's blemish-riddled forehead in all its unctuous glory. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is nothing special. Aside from some minor directional elements in the New York sequences and a nice seaside ambiance at the end, there is really no reason for the multi-channel presentation. As for extras, we are treated to Styermark's self-serving commentary track, which drags because of the director's monotone delivery, a collection of unnecessary outtakes, a HD Net production piece on the film (from some show called Higher Definition—how clever), and a chance to view some trailers, including one for the film at hand. Not the most stellar set of supplemental material.
There will be those who instantly fall into Dylan's amorous death wish and hope right along with the rest of his mates that Nikki finally gives in and delivers on his desire. There will also be those who find the emotional underpinning honest and the confrontations empowering, with everything working together to forge a fascinating study in human transience. But the truth is that One Last Thing … is a tepid treatment of subjects that deserve far better. Let's hope this is the one last thing director Alex Styermark subjects us to in his creative career.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
• Outtakes/Alternative Takes
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