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Stacy Title’s The Last Supper is a hipster morality play about a group of grad-school liberals who try to make the world a better place by poisoning the right-wing guests at a series of sacrificial dinners. Bluntly and gracelessly allegorical, the film demonstrates how difficult it is to moralize and entertain at the same time. Supper’s ethical debate is so conventional that the film has the institutionally instructive tone of an elementary-school filmstrip—loud bleeps before each new scene would make the impression complete. (It doesn’t resemble such a filmstrip in length, though. Title got an Academy Award nomination for her first short feature, and Supper is essentially a short movie after a session on the rack.)
The plan takes shape after a group of five lefty graduate students—played by Cameron Diaz, Annabeth Gish, Ron Eldard, Jonathan Penner, and Courtney B. Vance—impulsively invite a young stranger to dinner. Midway through the lasagna, he launches into a racist diatribe, ending with the observation that “Hitler had the right idea.” The hosts are appropriately outraged, especially after the argument turns personal: “Grad students—shit—a bunch of damn liberals; you left-wingers make me want to puke,” he snarls. (He’s loathsome, of course, but his reaction to their pseudo-intellectual self-righteousness is worthy of a high-five.) Dinner is effectively brought to an end when the guest threatens one of the hosts with a knife and is himself killed in the ensuing struggle. The students don’t feel particularly bad about it. In fact, they soon feel so good about it that a new brand of political activism is born.
Their plan—the ultimate defense against charges of being all talk and no action—is to invite their political enemies to dinner and off them if a reasoned attempt to change their beliefs fails. Like their first guest, the group’s subsequent dinner companions are absurdly over the top. They feed, in rapid succession, an anti-environmentalist, a pro-censorship librarian, a homophobic minister, a pro-lifer, a misogynist, a Farrakhan clone, and a high-schooler who’s opposed to the in-school distribution of condoms. (These right-wing stereotypes are played by an unlikely assortment of stars including Jason Alexander, Mark Harmon, and Charles Durning.) All this is not allowed to pass without comment by the filmmakers: The bodies are buried in the host’s back yard underneath what becomes an extremely large group of tomato plants. Soon the murderers have more of the fleshy, blood-red tomatoes than they know what to do with (they tend to feed their guests Italian); one of the students even complains oh-so-symbolically that they’re giving him stomach trouble. (The killings’ side-effects are a mixed bag, though: They also revivify two of the characters’ sex lives.)
The film’s mix of earnestness and ghoulish humor doesn’t quite work. The campy soundtrack—assembled, appropriately enough, by ex-Devo frontman and Pee Wee’s Playhouse score composer Mark Mothersbaugh—sets the film’s nastiness to songs like “I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC and the Sunshine band. (KC even provokes a Big Chill moment in the kitchen, with the gang members preparing food and playfully reliving the Top 40 radio of their youth.) At another point, a character dials 911 and is put on hold to the tune of “A Lover’s Concerto.” (This whole irony thing has gotten completely out of hand.) Another rather precious touch is the series of Howard Finster–style “folk art” paintings that accompany the film’s opening credits; their bucolic subject matter gradually gives way to scenes of murder and mayhem.
Long shots down the dining-room table from the guests’ point of view reveal that the hosts are a little too enthusiastic about implementating their plan. They may be making the world a safe place for liberals, but they’re also killing because they get a kick out of it. (Dan Rosen’s script spells it all out long after explanations are necessary: “They’re not people, they’re people who hate,” says one of the hosts smugly.) Like its characters, Supper is right-minded but a little unclear on the concept. Title deserves credit for trying to make a film about a weighty issue, but if this is serious cinema, I’ll take…
Mrs. Winterbourne. The third remake of Cornell Woolrich’s novel I Married a Dead Man isn’t nearly as bad as you’d expect from director Richard Benjamin, who presides over an impressive hall of shame including Milk Money, Made in America, and My Stepmother Is an Alien. This most recent screen adaptation, scripted by Cheers veteran Phoef Sutton and Lisa-Maria Radano, bears a striking similarity to two other recent movies. Like the heroine of While You Were Sleeping, the main character in Mrs. W finds herself mistaken for the spouse of an incapacitated man (in this case her task is made easier by the fact that he’s dead instead of unconscious) and unwilling to right the error because of her growing affection for the man’s family. Like the wealthy brood in Sabrina, the snooty Winterbourne clan includes two brothers, one uptight and one happy-go-lucky; the heroine’s job is to show the stodgy one how to loosen up and enjoy life.
Connie Doyle (Ricki Lake) is a lower-class girl from New Jersey who comes to New York City and promptly takes up with petty thief/womanizer Steve DeCunzo (Loren Dean). (She moves in with him, which allows for an amusing cast-list credit under the heading “scuzzy friends.”) He throws Connie out when she gets pregnant, and she eventually has the good fortune to wander accidentally onto a train, where she is befriended by a nice young man and his also-pregnant wife. Connie is trying on the woman’s wedding band when there’s a horrible train wreck; the couple is killed, and Connie wakes up in a hospital misidentified as the dead woman. She is soon sent for by her rich “in-laws,” the mother (Shirley MacLaine) and brother (Brendan Fraser) of the dead man who, it goes without saying, have never met or seen a picture of their new daughter/sister-in-law.
If all this seems like a set-up for that most reliable of cinematic staples, the makeover scene, it is—and for Ricki Lake of all people, who’s already a living, breathing makeover scene in real life. Here the filmmakers truly go overboard: Connie emerges looking like some kind of neoconservative pinup, complete with a bob, a prim little headband, a pink suit, and a string of pearls. Young Mr. Winterbourne goes for it in a big way, especially after he’s chided into doing a sultry tango with his ersatz sister-in-law by the family’s lovable gay butler (Don’t ask). Connie charms Mom Winterbourne by saying “tits” at dinner. Her baby charms brother Bill by peeing in his face like the tyke in Three Men and a Baby—now, there’s a gag worth repeating. In due time, and for this Benjamin cannot be forgiven, there is a superfluous scene requiring that MacLaine sing. (Who can forget wincing through just such a scene in Postcards From the Edge?)
Despite its staggeringly high yuck quotient, Mrs. W is not entirely without charm. Fraser, who will undoubtedly spend the rest of his career trying to live down Encino Man, is quite likable as Bill. (When his mother asks him if he really thinks their wealth makes them different from other people, he quips, “Let’s ask the servants.”) The script is inexplicably stingy with his lines—a particularly frustrating lack in a film that finds time for a Cheers in-joke—but Fraser’s brief comic turns make the movie watchable. As for Lake, her chief virtue is her ordinariness. It’s refreshing to see a film in which the leading man is attracted to the leading lady for reasons that cannot be immediately extrapolated from her appearance. (Someday soon, moviegoers will have forgotten that such a thing is even a possibility.) Sadly though, these small virtues are crushed under the juggernaut of bad taste that is the bulk of the movie.CP