They missed their golden opportunity for an Ash Wednesday release, but the makers of “Last Stop for Paul” — all dozen or so of them — will be blessed regardless of timing, because their movie is essentially timeless. A no-budget buddy/road/air/boat movie, “Last Stop” is first and foremost about pure storytelling. As such, it has a shot wherever the scrappy, self-distributing Mandt brothers can manage to take it. Pic begins a limited run March 7 in Los Angeles.
A kind of “Canterbury Tales” as Geoffrey Chaucer might have shot it on a 14th-century DV cam, “Last Stop for Paul” has at its center a Thermos full of human remains — the late Paul, who passes on just as the movie gets under way.
Paul’s death inspires his buddy Cliff (Marc Carter) to scatter the ashes during an around-the-world trip of the kind Paul had been planning. His pal Charlie (writer-director Neil Mandt) has been trying for years to get Cliff on one of his global jaunts, but Cliff has always said no. So it adds a degree of apprehension to the trip when Cliff finally decides to make the big leap into tourism, the ultimate destination being a full-moon party on a Bangkok beach.
Thailand is more or the less the MacGuffin that enables Mandt’s series of jokes, anecdotes and digressions, all of which prove a filmmaker doesn’t need much more than narrative, cleverly constructed and entertainingly told. Some of the tales are recycled tourist nightmares, bits of luckless-traveler lore and the occasional flash of romantic serendipity — such as Charlie’s seeming dance of destiny with a fellow traveler, Amy (Heather Petrone), whose path consistently crosses his.
Other than Petrone, no one in “Last Stop for Paul” is glamorous, or even a particularly good actor, but Mandt and Carter make the principals, Charlie and Cliff, familiar, likeable and open to new experience. These include their near-death van ride with two mad Irishmen in Jamaica (two actual tourists Mandt apparently met while shooting) and a cleaver-wielding Vietnamese ferryman on the South China Sea.
The way Mandt sets up his tale, in first-person, travel-doc style, circumvents the need for anything elaborate. Charlie narrates the entire story in homemovie fashion, although its deceptively casual style involved a lot of handheld DV shooting — and, as seen in the outtakes that accompany the end credits, much rehearsal with locals. One can imagine viewers accepting the entire setup as nonfiction, at least for a while. But there’s no real subterfuge going on, simply an ingenious way of constructing a good film out of virtually nothing.
Production values, given their limitations, are first-rate.