The movie is based on Gabriele Muccino's "L'Ultimo Baccio," a 2002 confection I kissed off as "perky pasta." At the least (and most), it was vitally Italian. But Americans don't like subtitles, so now the story has shifted from Florence, Italy, to (wow) Madison, Wis. Paul Haggis, a writer overpraised for "Million Dollar Baby" and "Crash," has recooked the plot pasta in a cement mixer. And Goldwyn tries desperately to keep the sloppy tonal shifts (rueful, comical, tragic, ludicrous) from washing his actors away.
It's about males hitting 30, yearning for long-gone 20, bewildering their more adult women. Zach Braff has the lead as Michael, a budding architect still unmarried to lovely, impressive Jenna (Jacinda Barrett); she is newly pregnant and wants, of course, the full package.
Michael hangs with his pals, a dopey bunch, especially the twerp played by Casey Affleck. Their great fear is commitment, so they flail and dither. Michael attends a wedding where a torchy young brunette, Kim (Rachel Bilson), practically spot-welds herself to him.
She even presses Michael's hand to her chest, to show the vital "metabolism" of her generation. Later, she seems like a stalker. Jenna finds out and goes rather banshee herself, which only eggs Michael into guilty, covert sex.
Part of the mess, beyond sitcom lines and dumb song fillers, is the disparity of Braff and Barrett. They seem wildly mismatched as actors, yet alone lovers. Barrett rages, spewing abuse with almost Scorsesean abandon, Braff bunkers into his glum, moody cool (suitably, his remark during a clench is "This isn't cool").
Braff had his true farewell to boyishness in "Garden State," and he may be too cerebral an actor to make this material work. When pledging refound love, he seems to be filing a report. When Barrett bears down on him, he seizes upon humility as maturity and becomes like a contrite pooch.
As contrast, consider Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson as Jenna's parents, cranky in late marriage. These two could play doorknobs expressively. But their surefire craft starts to seem comical, as if they were prepping to split for "Long Day's Journey Into Night."
This thing is all over the map, and yet nowhere. "The Last Kiss" uses a lot of cell phones, but it never gets the wake-up call to become a real story.
A Paramount Pictures release. Director: Tony Goldwyn. Writer: Paul Haggis, Gabriele Muccino. Cast: Zach Braff, Blythe Danner, Jacinda Barrett, Rachel Bilson, Casey Affleck, Harold Ramis. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Rated R. 1 1/2 stars.