Friday, March 30, 2012
4:44 Last Day on Earth
It takes a director as supremely untalented as Abel Ferrara to make the end of the world a matter of apathetic ennui, which he's done in the direct-to-dustheap bomb "4:44 Last Day on Earth."
We've had some terrific apocalypse films in the last quarter-century, from Lars Von Trier's masterpiece "Melancholia" to smaller gems such as "Miracle Mile" and Cana...da's "Last Night." The makers of each of those films took the time to craft three-dimensional characters in whom we became emotionally invested, and to construct a coherent story culminating in a logical climax. Ferrara, though, is a cheat; he just plops us down in the Manhattan apartment of probably the two least interesting people on the planet, explains his High Concept (a risible mishmash of environmental doomsday scenarios), and starts the clock. (He even plagiarizes a few of the cleverest images from "Miracle Mile," but with none of Steve DeJarnatt's visual wit.)
Willem Dafoe plays the male romantic lead, not a great idea under the best of circumstances and even less so considering he and unpromising co-star Shanyn Leigh use the end of days as an excuse for a series of soft-core sexcapades. (The rest of the time, she's either doing yoga or painting bad art.) Since Ferrara has no clue how to convey his banal ideas, he has Dafoe talk to himself, which of course just makes Dafoe (already Walkenesque to begin with) seem really bonkers. (There's also a Skype catfight between Leigh and Dafoe's ex that induced waves of laughter in my audience.)
When you tackle as ultimate a subject as this, you'd better bring something of value to the table, whether the iconic imagery and conflicting terror and resignation of "Melancholia," the unique style of "Miracle Mile," or the understated, elegiac grace of "Last Night." Ferrara plays a series of Al Gore and Dalai Lama videos, interspersed with montages of strangers around the globe and what looks like public-access television. His film - and it's really not even cinematic enough to qualify for the designation - is 85 unwatchable minutes of sound and fury, signifying nothing.