The script for "The Event" purportedly kicked around for years in development hell before director Thom Fitzgerald came on board and a production deal was finally sealed. Pic portrays a mood of inevitable mortal gloom in its view of the AIDS epidemic in NYC and seems rooted in a mid-'80s to mid-'90s ethos that feels dated.

The script for “The Event” purportedly kicked around for years in development hell before director Thom Fitzgerald came on board and a production deal was finally sealed. To put the best spin on a disappointing end result, project — which portrays a mood of inevitable mortal gloom in its view of the AIDS epidemic in NYC — was delayed beyond the era of its most urgent relevancy. This middling drama about euthanasia, worked out through a sprawl of underdeveloped characters, will almost certainly end up as cable offering. People still die from AIDS, but pic seems rooted in a mid-’80s to mid-’90s ethos that feels dated, particularly since its earnestly instructive (if wobbly) tenor recalls such then-groundbreaking, prestige-cast yet pedestrian telepics on the same theme as “An Early Frost,” “And the Band Played On” and “Our Sons.”

Parker Posey is Nick, an investigator for the district attorney’s office who’s assigned to check out a series of suspect deaths — AIDS patients who died under similar circumstances, immediately following invitation-only parties. DA thinks the patients may have opted for assisted-suicide, which illegal by N.Y. state law.

First stop for Nicola (aka Nick) is the Chelsea district HIV support clinic presided over by Brian (Brent Carver), who was late cellist Matt’s (Don McKellar) best friend, caregiver and lover. Brian resents the bureaucratic intrusion, but Nick pushes forward.

Why was Matt cremated so quickly? Did family and friends help him plan out a painless demise? Did he (as well as several other recently deceased patients at the clinic) throw a big farewell bash designed to end with his own drug overdose?

Nick’s interviews with Matt’s stereotypically tough-loving Jewish mama (Olympia Dukakis), his argumentative younger actress sister (Sarah Polley) and defensively square-homemaker elder one (Joanna P. Adler) raise more questions than they answer. Meanwhile, the investigator’s ambivalence about this case is exacerbated by suspicion that her own very-Jersey family might harbor a similar death-with-dignity secret.

Flashbacks show Matt’s increasing debilitation and his move back under his mom’s roof for full-time caregiving. Dramaturgical climax is the Manhattan party at which he says goodbye before retiring to a bedroom for fatal intravenous-drip overdose — which goes awry, enabling pic to yank tear ducts further.

Last half-hour piles on far too many such lump-in-throat moments, their contrivance amplified by the portrayal of Matt’s purported closest-friend circle as a very p.c.-movie-ish “rainbow” of banal types Despite its grittier surface, “The Event” comes off as the East Coast equivalent to Randall Kleiser’s “It’s My Party,” which similarly offered an artificial air-kiss-festival sendoff for a terminal AIDS patient’s premeditated suicide.

Amply talented cast is not seen at its best. Polley and Posey strain for woiking-class-Joisey feel; Carver and McKellar substitute prickliness for fully-dimensional characters; Dukakis is indulged with the kind of conventional but showy role that can lead to an Emmy Award. Perfs don’t benefit from pic’s uncertain tone, which wavers between quasi-hardboiled “black” comedy and guilt-tripping sentimentality.

Thomas M. Harting’s HD vid lensing has the past swimming in earth tones and the present in a soft-focus, bluish cast; neither is very appealing. Soundtracked retro rock/pop/disco songs and Christophe Beck’s original score lack appeal as well. Other design and tech aspects are adequate. Local-color exteriors aside, pic was primarily shot in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“The Event” is particularly disappointing in the wake of hit-and-miss Canadian helmer Fitzgerald’s (“The Hanging Garden,” “Beefcake”) as yet little-seen fall Toronto preem, the Romania-set-and-shot “Wild Dogs.” Latter traversed not-dissimilar ensemble-based, provocative-social-issue territory with remarkable freshness.

The Event

Canada

Production

A ThinkFilm, Covington Intl. and Flutie Entertainment presentation of an Arkanjel and Emotion Pictures production. Produced by Bryan Hofbauer, Thom Fitzgerald. Executive producers, Robert Flutie, Vicki McCarty, Jeff Sackman, Chris Zimmer. Co-producers, Steven Hillyer, Tim Marback. Directed by Thom Fitzgerald. Screenplay, Tim Marback, Steven Hillyer, Fitzgerald.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Thomas M. Harting; editor, Christopher Cooper; music, Christophe Beck; production designer, D'Arcy Poultney; art director, Ethan Todman; costume designers, Mia Morgan, Sian Morris Ross; sound (Dolby Digital), Jim Rollie; assistant director, Dana Warren; casting, John Comerford, Leonard Finger. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 19, 2003. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Nick - Parker Posey Lila - Olympia Dukakis Matt - Don McKellar Dana - Sarah Polley Brian - Brent Carver Mona - Jane Leeves Gaby - Joanna P. Adler Rory - Rejean J. Cournoyer Judy - Christina Zorich Uncle Leo - Richard Latessa Amy - Cynthia Preston
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