Zach Braff is an ass.
At least, he plays a major one in the much-anticipated The Last Kiss, quite the polar opposite of the familiar sad puppy-sweet clown Braff you've come to know and love from Scrubs and his self-written and -directed movie Garden State.
But here, Braff goes from sweet to lowdown, shaking off his self-proclaimed "lovable goofy guy" persona to play a complete jerk. And, showing he does have some range, he executes it rather well.
The movie, however, has too much range. Kiss is like a screwball guy flick masquerading as a grown-up dramedy. The cast of characters is mostly kid-like men on the verge of 30 who can hold their liquor but not their women emotional maturity isn't the strength of these guys' guys. Throw in Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, a beer bong and Peter Pan's I-don't-wanna-grow-up sentiment, and you're not far from Old School. Only this time it is, ostensibly, for adults.
Braff's character, Michael, has a successful career, good friends and a longtime, loving girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), but he flips out when she discovers she's pregnant. He tries to play it cool and supportive, but we quickly see that he's really a commitment-phobe who's just a flirtation away from losing everything.
Michael's three best buds are also in the relationship doghouse. Chris (Casey Affleck) is ready to leave his overwhelmed stay-at-home wife because having a child has shockingly not brought them closer as he'd hoped. Chris gets fed up and prepares to take off with his buddies on a male-bonding road trip. Joining Chris is Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), who is stunned to find out that women his age are really hoping for more than a one-night stand, and clueless Izzy (Michael Weston), who's obsessed over his former high school sweetheart and in the middle of a pre-midlife crisis.
This remake of 2001 Italian film L'Ultimo Bacio gets a lyrical lift from screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby). In other hands it would have simply read:
"Yeah, dude, I hear ya bitches."
Haggis and director Tony Goldwyn succeed in making the viewer feel entirely uncomfortable watching Braff act a fool. In fact, the most stomach-churning scenes are between Braff and Rachel Bilson (from Fox's The OC). She plays the barely 20-year-old coed who spots Michael at a wedding and throws her perky little body at him. It's not that Michael wants to cheat; it's that he's going to with the worst kind of girl, one too young and immature to show better judgment. That Michael buys into her juvenile come-ons is rather sickening.
When she pulls his hand to her chest, and says, "Feel my heart," you'll want to puke. But Bilson really nails the part; it makes Braff's Michael, who even admits he knows better, seem all the more pathetic.
The foil to these pushin'-30 losers is Jenna's mom (Blythe Danner) and dad (Tom Wilkinson), who are boarding their own train to Splitsville. They're supposed to show us that making a successful long-term relationship work takes more than just the guts to commit. Danner and Wilkinson play their roles perfectly she with her impeccable composure and he with his warm, understanding demeanor.
By the time all lessons are learned, however, The Last Kiss is far too confused. On one hand, we're meant to cheer for the knuckleheads who head off to Neverland in their Winnebago, refusing to grow up; and on the other, we're to applaud the guys who stay behind to own up to their responsibilities and commitments. But frankly, all of them are such dumbasses, it's hard root for any of them.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].