The Last Time I Committed Suicide

on June 20, 1997 by Dale Winogura
   Based on a letter by would-be poet Neal Cassady (Thomas Jane) to writer Jack Kerouac in the 1950s, an elliptical screenplay by writer/director Stephen Kay ("Intimate Power") follows Cassady through several nights of revelry as he romances a suicidal young woman ("Basquiat's" Claire Forlani) and hangs with his buddy (Keanu Reeves) at a Denver pool hall, getting drunk and gabbing endlessly about anything. Meanwhile, a precocious underage girl (Gretchen Mol) keeps coming on to Cassady, to the chagrin of her puritanical mother (Christie Rose). Not much more happens in these unrevealing relationships except for ambling conversations in smoky, low-key lit rooms, with scenes moved along by shaky handheld camerawork and forced jumpcuts.
   The existential angst and restlessness of the 1950s Beat generation are not conveyed with any dramatic impact or perception in this Kushner-Locke/Tapestry production, which tries to make art out of shallowness and vacuity. For all his well-meaning intentions, Kay fails to grasp the spiritual malaise and rebellion of the lifestyle; in its place he offers a fractured time frame and fragmented experimentalist style.
   None of the desired alienation and tension comes through the dreary, self-absorbed characters and empty philosophical dialogues, despite the cast's clearly devoted efforts. Although Jane purposefully attempts to define and comprehend the lead role's agitated, rootless anxiety, he comes off as just another dull, nowhere slacker. The same holds for Reeves' admirably serious and conscientious performance and Forlani's intended warmth and sensitivity.
   The arty, self-conscious moviemaking lacks the guts and grit to make the slim premise come alive. Kay drags out the tale without bothering to elucidate it, instead pouring jazz numbers by the likes of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk onto the soundtrack, apparently to enhance the film's artistic relevance. "The Last Time I Committed Suicide" can join disastrous movies like "The Beat Generation" (1959) and "The Subterraneans" (1960) as another misguided effort to chronicle a most unproductive sensibility.    Starring Thomas Jane, Keanu Reeves and Claire Forlani. Directed and written by Stephen Kay. Produced by Edward Bates and Louise Rosner. A Roxie release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality. Running time: 93 min.
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