Conspicuous Consumption


A gem of a Fredric Brown story runs, in its entirety: “The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door. . . . ” Considerably more prolix, first-time director Harry Ralston’s what-if comedy The Last Man (filmed in 1999) never strikes the same balance of mirth and menace, turning the anxieties of post-apocalyptic life into a summer-stock sex, lies and videotape. Schlubby anthropologist Alan (David Arnott) camcords a diary in hopes of educating whatever survivors (or inconceivable Others) eventually find it. The “knock,” in his case, comes in the form of vaguely unhinged bombshell Sarah (Trekkie’s delight Jeri Ryan), who makes him promise never to leave her, at the same time recoiling from his pudgy touch. His tenuous hold on her affections disintegrates with the appearance of Homo sapien No. 3, camera-ready hitchhiker Raphael (Dan Montgomery).

Occasionally the absurdity of the setup refreshes: At the dawn of a brave new world, and hardwired with biblical imperatives to be fruitful, the characters still get a kick out of the possibilities for pointless consumption (nabbing an infinite variety of pancake toppings, or a carnival tilt-a-whirl). But Alan’s sneaky, soul-baring tapes induce a claustrophobia at odds with the idea of all that eerie open space. Arnott makes a natural chatterbox, but though he exhibits a certain post-John Candy, pre-Jack Black level of body comfort, in the end it feels a little too much like you’ve spent an hour and a half watching a fat guy in his underwear. If The Last Man were the last movie left on earth, there would be a toss-up between presiding over the end of cinema as we know it and another night of delightful hand shadows.