"The Last Supper," a socially relevant satire that takes as its target the entire political spectrum, heralds the arrival of director Stacy Title as a bright new talent on the U.S. indie scene. Though marred by structural flaws and a rather schematic narrative, this bang-up film of ideas, which features a terrific cast of young actors, should appeal to sophisticated viewers seeking provocative, non-mainstream entertainment.

The Last Supper,” a socially relevant satire that takes as its target the entire political spectrum, heralds the arrival of director Stacy Title as a bright new talent on the U.S. indie scene. Though marred by structural flaws and a rather schematic narrative, this bang-up film of ideas, which features a terrific cast of young actors, should appeal to sophisticated viewers seeking provocative, non-mainstream entertainment. New prominence of co-star (and the director’s husband) Jonathan Penner, of highly touted sitcom “The Naked Truth,” won’t hurt, either. Pic was backed by Columbia TriStar Home Video, and it is as yet undecided which Sony distrib arm will handle it theatrically.

Utterly unlike the current slew of Tarantino-like, neo-noir indies, “The Last Supper” is bound to surprise audiences with its absorbingly pungent yarn about right and left — and right and wrong — in contemporary U.S. politics. Inevitable comparisons will be made with “Shallow Grave,” the Scottish pic about greed and friendship, due to some thematic resemblance. But with its grounding in a specifically American context, new item should touch a more responsive chord with U.S. auds.

In a brilliant opening sequence, five graduate students engage in a lively discussion with Zac (Bill Paxton), a stranger who gave one of them a ride during a rain storm. It’s the quintet’s ceremonial entertainment: Every Sunday, they invite one guest of honor for an exchange of ideas. The proceedings heat up when the ultra-patriot right-winger voices his racist views. Zac begins a physical fight, which ends with his death at the hands of Marc (Penner).

Once the quintet’s initial shock and dismay pass, they decide to embark upon a crusade to rid society of its most deplorable members. More guests lead to more killings — and more backyard burials — all to the benefit of the garden, which begins to blossom with delicious tomatoes.

Pic aims at being at once a black comedy, a la “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and a political critique of the 1990s, but ultimately it’s too ambitious for its own good. After the first reel, the narrative becomes progressively schematic. Further cutting would help; there are too many victims, each standing for another despicable cause. Last sequence, in which the group entertains a conservative TV commentator (Ron Perlman), is stretched way beyond its necessary length. And while the film offers a snappy resolution, it’s too bad writer Dan Rosen didn’t take a firmer ideological stance.

That said, there are so many passages of lively discussion, snappy humor and affecting sentiment that the flaws become less apparent. Director Title sustains suspense through lively dialogue, with little gore. Pic’s most distinctive qualities are the varying rhythms of its conversations, which are satirical yet also intimately engaging. Helmer also is proficient in providing comic relief from the more intense moments.

Title has gathered a terrific cast of actors, who work extremely well as an ensemble. And the guests are played by eccentric performers, all hitting their marks in due course, including brilliant turns by Paxton, Perlman and Charles Durning.

Considering the budget of just $ 500,000, tech credits are superb, with particularly impressive contributions from lenser Paul Cameron and composer Mark Mothersbaugh.

The Last Supper

Production

A Vault production. Produced by Mat Cooper , Larry Weinberg. Co-executive producers, David Cooper, Jonathan Penner, Stacy Title. Co-producers, Lori Miller, Dan Rosen. Directed by Stacy Title. Screenplay , Dan Rosen.

Crew

Camera (color), Paul Cameron; editor, Luis Colina; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; production design, Linda Burton; casting, Debra and Bonnie Zane. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 10, 1995. Running time: 92 min.

With

Jade - Cameron Diaz
Pete - Ron Eldard
Paulie - Annabeth Gish
Marc - Jonathan Penner
Luke - Courtney B. Vance
With: Jason Alexander, Charles Durning, Bryn Erin, Nora Dunn, Mark Harmon, Bill Paxton, Ron Perlman.

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