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'Final' plays a disappointing mind game

Friday, January 04, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

When Denis Leary goes off on a rant, you sometimes wonder when the men in the white coats will show up. He yells, he sneers, he grumbles on about the state of things, a Boston Irishman with a short temper and a sharp tongue. And that's just in his stand-up routine.


RATING: R for language.

STARRING: Denis Leary, Hope Davis.

DIRECTOR: Campbell Scott.



The movie "Final" takes the next logical step and commits him to a mental ward, in the person of a man named Bill. He wakes up in a locked room containing nothing except his bed, a sink with a medicine cabinet and a window he can't open.

Bill's figuratively climbing the walls to get out and babbling about conspiracies involving cryogenics and lethal injections. His therapist, Ann (Hope Davis), with a stone face and a Valium voice, tries to calm him down and ease his fears.

Like a poor man's "Memento," the movie tries to wind back the reel and find out how he got here. Director Campbell Scott gives us fragments of flashbacks of Bill in an agitated state driving an old truck to a quarry. Ann keeps probing at what happened before that.

Unlike "Memento," the key to "Final" is what happens next. The answer proves to be somewhat disappointing.

Except for Bill's flashbacks, the first half of the movie takes place mostly in Bill's locked room. The scenes consist of Bill prowling like a caged animal and his dialogues with Ann -- the script was written by Bruce McIntosh.

Other than claustrophobic, it feels like nothing so much as a photographed stage play, a beast that is neither fish nor fowl. Then, as director Scott starts opening up the film by including some outdoors scenes, the truth emerges -- from the vicinity of left field.

By showing us things mostly from Bill's point of view, the movie has given us no context. The audience is left in the same boat, just as open to manipulation as the patients.

What ultimately transpires -- it's impossible to elaborate without giving too much away -- seems at cross-purposes with what we have already seen, at least from the standpoint of plot and meaning. It does serve the emotional content of the film, thanks largely to the performances by Davis and Leary.

In the end, though, "Final" ends up closer to the Twilight Zone than any of its characters. But its irony, far from being delicious, leaves an unsatisfying aftertaste.

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