A review of “The Last Kiss” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for language and some nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

 

 

Remakes are an interesting breed, born of a desire for more of the same or a cultural zeitgeist culled from foreign material. Remaking a so-so film from a handful of years ago (Italy’s 2001 “The Last Kiss”) is not a good call, even with the splendiferous Paul Haggis as its key scribe.

As the poster child for Gen-X angst Zach Braff does what Zach Braff does best. His stagnantly maturing Michael has it all; great job, great girl (Jacinda Barrett as Jenna) and a baby on the way. Like any thirty year-old worth his cinematic salt Michael finds himself at life’s crossroads in full-tilt panic.

Michael and Kim (the O.C.’s Rachel Bilson) meet cute at a mutual friend’s wedding, Michael fretting over an outlook lacking surprise and the post-pubescent Kim keen to play it flirty with an “older” man.

Against his better judgment Michael succumbs to the emotional folly of temptation and begins seeing Kim on the sly, hanging out at a U of Wisconsin (Go Badgers!) frat party and ending the evening in Kim’s dorm room.

Jenna is having anxieties of her own regarding marriage and motherhood. They pale in comparison to the fur that flies when she discovers Michael cheating on their future.

Naturally the peripheral players get tangled up in this messy conundrum. Jenna’s folks (excellent thesps Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson) attempt to counsel the youngsters while dealing with their own issues, the offshoot of thirty years of warmed-over routine. Michael’s buddies suffer from his identical fear of commitment and the inevitable stepping stones of life.

There’s a good reason why the original “Kiss” was Italy’s second highest grossing film of 2001. Passionate paramours recklessly displayed their hearts on their sleeves, loving and leaving with flailing Mediterranean gusto.

But it doesn’t play the same with imperturbable Americans who read as juvenile clowns for their inability or unwillingness to put their emotional houses in order.

Braff is perfectly niched in this realm, exuding sincere disquiet and puppy dog smiles. He delivers cliché with smooth sincerity (“I don’t ever stop to breathe anymore”) and vibes genuine conflict. For my money the girl who causes him to stray needs to possess a soulful spark, thus threatening his idyllic set-up. Bilson is a dumbed-down coed who just wants a hot squeeze she can trot out in front of her gal-pals.

The package looks great and Wisconsin rocks but the message is ultimately tired. Trite bon-mots pile on one another – “you can’t fail if you don’t give up” – as spoiled adult posers search for higher meaning.

We know that commitment is hard, we know that life can suck. Tell us something we don’t know.