A kind of hair-pulling paesano version of St. Elmo’s Fire (or Beautiful Girls), writer-director Gabriele Muccino’s The Last Kiss (ThinkFilm, opens August 16) exists in a particularly Italian universe of frantic, go-for-broke emotionalism. An unfaithful smooch is cause enough for homicidal fury, and a crying baby compels a self-imposed exile to Africa. The frame-up is schematic: Four affluent college buddies face 30 with varying forms of hapless, terrified self-indulgence. Our ostensible hero, Carlo (Stefano Accorsi), has impregnated his beatific long-term girlfriend Giulia (the lovely and terrifying Giovanna Mezzogiorno), which leads him to the pursuit of a luscious blond high schooler. Adriano (Giorgio Pasotti) already has a wife and baby, and being thus shackled by domesticity triggers paroxysms of claustrophobic hysteria. Paolo (Claudio Santamaria) is obsessively stalking an old amor and guiltily avoiding his dying father. Alberto (Marco Cocci) is a longhaired lothario who changes bedmates like socks.
While the latter three plot a literal escape from the continent and Carlo dreamily accumulates lies and betrayals, Giulia’s middle-aged mom (Stefania Sandrelli) has a breakdown and walks out on her psychiatrist husband—only to find out she has nowhere to go. All of the characters are stuck in narrative holding patterns, over-agonizing about their situations; rather than biopsying male commitment-phobia, Muccino goes for repetitive shtick. The movie’s assortment of shrikes, whores, and menopausal bags have nothing on the men, all of them vain, cartoonish buffoons with the self-control of howler monkeys. Still, Muccino obviously sympathizes with the guys—when Carlo shtups and then dumps his strumpet, she’s the pathetic joke, not him. The director knows how to apply textural gloss, but his portrait of sex-as-war is strictly sitcom. The lame pretense to comedy is further flattened by an unamusingly maniacal crescendo—most of the chaos launched like napalm out of Mezzogiorno’s enraged eyes and throat.