AT THE very end, when that big bang and blinding white flash terminate life as we know it, which part of the world will yield the most poignant human stories? If your answer is "Canada," then "Last Night" is the movie for you.
Don McKellar, best known as an actor in such Canadian-made movies as "Exotica," "The Red Violin" (which he co-wrote) and "eXistenZ," has set his directorial debut in Toronto, where a diverse group of characters face the final curtain in their own, special ways.
Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) intends to make love with every conceivable partner he can imagine, including a virgin, a former French teacher (Genevieve Bujold) and, well, the variety is rich. Duncan (David Cronenberg), the head of a gas company, closes out his earthly session by calling every customer to assure them gas services will continue to the very end.
And then there's Patrick (McKellar), a sort of nerd antihero, whose quirky intelligence is always good for witty discomfort around the family dinner table.
After a reluctant visit to his folks, he reprises the smart-aleck rejoinders that vex his mother and sister Jennifer (Sarah Polley), then insists on leaving to spend humankind's final moments on his own. But when he crosses paths with Sandra (Sandra Oh), who's racing to reach her husband on the other side of town, he changes his plans to spend his last moments in solitude.
"Last Night" makes no attempt to explain how or why the world is ending. And the pandemonium occurring around the world is largely ignored. For one thing, this movie doesn't have the budget for it. For another, both concerns are unnecessary. McKellar aims to bring human dimension to the awful big picture with delicate human details.
Ah, but there's the rub. The details fail him. Patrick's family, for instance, makes a large Christmas dinner out of the whole situation, with wrapped presents and a huge bird for dinner. Patrick's father is stoic, his mother is seethingly repressed. And for the billionth time, we are to find bittersweet humor in the supposed WASP inability to face reality with anything but goofy, starched ritual. Surely, we could have found a more interesting household -- after all, we only get one shot to document humanity before the globe is blown to smithereens. McKellar chooses to spend much of the second half with his own character, whose distanced irony is probably the least interesting perspective in the movie. How meaningful is it going to be if Patrick sheds some of that cynicism and gets emotionally "real" with Sandra? Throughout the finale, I kept thinking: Give me the apocalypse, give me suffering, give me wailing and gnashing of teeth, give me the big bang . . . Anything but this tentative whimpering.
LAST NIGHT (R, 95 minutes) -- Contains sexual scenes, nudity and obscenity. At the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle 3.