Reps of three generations in contempo Madison, Wis., grapple with commitment, infidelity, hot tempers and cold feet in “The Last Kiss.” Nicely thesped and adequately involving narrative tackles issues well worth examining in a manner accessible to everyone. But the closest most of the protags get to genuine chemistry is when in proximity to a science building on campus. All-American adaptation by Paul Haggis of Gabriele Muccino’s 2001 Italian hit “L’Ultimo bacio” is chummy, consensual and always watchable in Tony Goldwyn’s polished rendition of emotional messiness. Pic should smooch with acceptable B.O. results.
Yank version hews closely to the Italian template but trades the sprightly original’s frantic pace for a rhythm better suited to Zach Braff’s lowkey brand of existential panic. Voiceover from Michael (Braff) reveals he will hit 30 next month. While having dinner with Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), his girlfriend of three years, and her parents, Anna (Blythe Danner) and Stephen (Tom Wilkinson), Jenna announces she’s 10 weeks pregnant.
Unsettled by the prospect of settling down and raising a child — not to mention spending less time with his three childhood buddies — Michael, an architect, boasts the demeanor of a human deer caught in the headlights of imminent adulthood. When perky college sophomore Kim (Rachel Bilson) gloms on to Michael, offering sex and adoration in record time, Michael flirts with disaster and all hell breaks loose.
Michael’s pals face crises and obstacles of their own, with the sometimes lopsided ensembler contriving to dole out at least one Big Issue per customer. Izzy (Michael Weston) can’t take another minute in the cheese biz and, weepy and volatile, refuses to accept that his childhood sweetheart has left him.
Chris (Casey Affleck) and wife Lisa (Lauren Lee Smith) thought having a baby might save their relationship, but the arrival of their son has only accentuated their problems. Slacker Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen) tends bar and beds babes; when he meets Danielle (Cindy Sampson), his ideal match in female form, he bolts.
Braff is always fun to watch, and Danner and Wilkinson can do no wrong. Situational humor is structurally sound, and yet the aggregate result of all this Sturm und Drang is more distancing than involving. The convincingly flawed characters make more dumb moves than smart ones, but it rarely feels as if the psyches on display are really on the line. Result makes for more of a cautionary tale than a rollicking entertainment, although there are multiple laughs along the way.
Tweaks and adjustments from the original include turning the Kim character from an 18-year-old who lives with her parents to a 20-year-old with a dorm room and eliminating the Izzy character’s relationship with his ailing father.
Haggis has sharply embellished a crucial dialogue scene between Braff’s and Wilkinson’s characters to excellent effect. A revelation and advice from an older man to a younger one leads to a rewardingly intense reshuffling of events en route to an open ending of a sort not often seen in mainstream American films.
Lensing is efficient, score unobtrusive.