The Last Kiss

Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Sept. 15. Rated R. 104 minutes.

Those twentysomethings, poor dears, can never catch a break in the movies. First this maligned generation is told, in countless gritty indies and perky studio comedies, that they're rowing through life without oars. Now, director Tony Goldwyn's admirably understated handling of dispiritingly slender material suggests that if you're pushing 30, you're likely to be fuddy-duddy before your time. Evidently that's a good thing.

The topic sentence of Paul Haggis' screenplay (adapted from Gabriele Muccino's milquetoast Italian 2001 movie of the same name) whacks you over the head early on, when 29-year-old Michael (Zach Braff), a slacker disguised as an architect, announces in desperation that everyone he knows is "in crisis." His girlfriend Jenna (a poised Jacinda Barrett) is several weeks into her first pregnancy. Their immediate circle of friends face (or rather do their darnedest to avoid) similar life-cycle dilemmas, and it comes as no surprise when a coopful of chickens comes to roost at the lavish wedding of a foolishly radiant acquaintance.

Fielding a come-hither glance from firm-young-fleshed Kim (The OC's Rachel Bilson), Michael sets limply about throwing away what's best in his life, while his best pals, each according to his type, follow suit. One (Casey Affleck) is trying to reconcile new fatherhood with a dead-in-the-water marriage; another (Michael Weston) smarts over being dumped; a third (Eric Christian Olsen) doggedly pursues the kind of single life that wouldn't appeal to a dog.

Goldwyn shows a precise appreciation for those moments when life forces into the open the unhappiness you've been stubbornly sitting on for years. Still, for a movie that's morally tilted toward the virtues of shacking up and settling down, Kiss takes a dreary view of matrimony's uxorious pleasures. Maybe on the tender cusp of 30, marriage ought to look a little drab, but even Jenna's lovingly concerned parents (Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson) are deep in you've-never-understood-me doo-doo of their own.

The movie ultimately depends on Braff, who has schleppy charm to burn but no range whatsoever. Like many actors who come out of television comedy, he can't stop wooing the audience for a smile and a tear—or worse, both at once. Kiss isn't terrible, but if you're strapped for a night out, it can easily wait till DVD. Better yet, it may be time to revisit Diner. ELLA TAYLOR

 
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