``The Last Kiss" is a seriocomic pity party for 30-year-old men who are terrified of maturity, and I suppose it'll strike some guys out there as God's own truth. To others, the film may just seem intensely irritating, for its unexamined fear of women, for its refusal to draw real dramatic blood, and for its unholy use of Coldplay songs.
Directed by actor-turned-director Tony Goldywn and written by Paul (``Crash") Haggis, ``Kiss" is a remake of the 2001 Italian film ``L'Ultimo Bacio," retooled to an America of sensitive, scared males. It very much wants to be ``Garden State" five years down the line.
The hero, Michael (Zach Braff), is an architect -- what's with all the architects in movies lately? -- who has just learned his longtime girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), is pregnant. This news fills him with delight when he's talking to Jenna and deer-in-headlights panic at all other times. So he's open to the flirty invitations of a nubile college student named Kim (Rachel Bilson of ``The O.C.") he meets at a wedding. What she sees in him is never quite clear; Braff, so sharp on TV's ``Scrubs," rarely leaves sad-sack mode here.
His friends are in similar arrested pickles. Co-worker Chris (Casey Affleck, very good) is married with a baby son, but his wife (Lauren Lee Smith) is driving him crazy with demands that he change a diaper or two. Izzy (Michael Weston) has been dumped by his girlfriend (Marley Shelton) and is contemplating turning stalker or fleeing the country. The only one of the gang who has it all -- looks, hair, the continued ability to enjoy casual sex with gorgeous women -- is Kenny (Eric Christian Olsen), and he shies like a filly from the first sign of commitment.
The central drama is whether Michael will sleep with the absurdly available Kim and, more important, whether he'll be able to tell Jenna about all the not-nice stuff banging around in his head. In other words, whether he'll stop lying to her. Being a Hollywood movie with TV stars, though, ``The Last Kiss" wants us to like these boys even when they're behaving badly, and that keeps it from any real insights into why men can be jerks.
And they can be jerks: The arrival of marriage, babies, and one's 30s is certainly the occasion for tortuous self-examination. (It's called growing up, fellas, and once upon a time, before the culture started insisting our youths can go on forever, it took place in your 20s or even earlier.) And, yes, many of us edit our thoughts before they reach the ears of our loved ones, for reasons of both tact and anxiety. These things do resonate.
Yet for all the toes stepped on and trusts betrayed in ``The Last Kiss," there's never any lasting damage. Haggis' s script has the same airless predetermination that haunted ``Crash" -- the same cramped democracy of character that keeps it from breathing the air of life as it's actually lived. (The writer loves emotional messes so long as they're tidy.)
In the end, it's the characters who are betrayed, particularly the women. Chris' s wife is an exhausted shrew, end of story. The college girl's a siren, then a clinger. Jenna is smotheringly affectionate until she becomes a hellhound of fury. What about their fears? ``The Last Kiss" pays them lip service but it's never really interested. Whatever you say, honey.
That leaves poor Blythe Danner up a tree as Anna, Jenna's mother: a vibrant woman in a rage at her husband (Tom Wilkinson) for being a dull saint. Danner makes the character's righteous anger marvelous and moving to behold; she wants to tear down her suburban stronghold and to hell with the consequences. You wish the movie were about her. It isn't, though. It's about forgiving the boys.
And about pop songs in place of earned emotion. Is this where Simon and Garfunkel on the soundtrack of ``The Graduate" have led us? To wall-to-wall Snow Patrol and Aimee Mann cueing us to sigh in canned understanding? As with ``Garden State" and ``Elizabethtown," ``The Last Kiss" is an iPod playlist in search of a movie, and what it loses in honest drama it will surely make up for in sales of the CD.
Fine, but Tony Goldwyn was able to combine period pop and hard human quandaries in 1999's ``A Walk on the Moon," his first film as director and still his best. You'll probably come out of ``The Last Kiss" wanting to buy the soundtrack. That doesn't mean you have to buy the movie as well.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.