Too self-consciously styled as an irreverent, lightly comic tale of a terminally cancerous teen boy and his outlandish final wish, "One Last Thing ... " lacks the spontaneously raw appeal of director Alex Steyermark's cool debut, "Prey for Rock and Roll," playing closer to an after-school special (with HBO-standard dialogue) than a satisfying feature film. Pic may find receptive niche auds in its Stateside release, planned for spring 2006, but will be best remembered as providing impressive young thesp Michael Angarano with one of his first substantial lead roles.
In small-town Pennsylvania, 16-year-old Dylan Jamieson (Angarano) appears to be taking his death sentence by cancer fairly well. He has solid emotional support in caring widowed mom Karen (Cynthia Nixon) and pals Ricky (Matt Bush) and Slap (Gideon Glick). Threesome share a joke that Dylan, when stating his wish for org United Wish Givers, should request a weekend with uber-hot supermodel Nikki Sinclair. Catching everyone off guard, this is precisely what Dylan asks for.
He seems destined to regret his dream, based on what we first see of the obnoxious Nikki (Sunny Mabrey), so corrosive and rude toward others and on such a self-destruct course that her agent Arlene (Gina Gershon, taking a supporting seat after her knockout lead perf in "Rock and Roll") is ready to give up on her altogether.
Unfortunately, the pic predictably and mechanically cuts back and forth between Dylan and Nikki, building no tension and repeating the same points ad nauseum, while leading to the inevitable conclusion that the boy will eventually bring out the best in the woman.
Most interesting aspect in the early section is the casual relationship between son and mom; he urges her to blurt out cuss words to relieve her stress. More sentimental are Dylan's many flashbacks to his dead father (Ethan Hawke, in an extended and uncredited cameo) fishing by the shore.
After Dylan's wish has been aired on TV, Nikki grudgingly meets the nervy teen at his home, but the scene is dull, and it takes all of the film's energy to rebuild a sense of storytelling purpose as Dylan decides to go to New York -- despite his weakening condition -- and meet Nikki again. Ricky and Slap, of course, act as sidekicks in what becomes a case of "Malcolm in the Middle" meets "On the Town."
Even though "One Last Thing ..." succumbs to trite sentimentality, Angarano gives the film its soul, with a performance that allows him space to project tenderness, uncannily mature wisdom and a commanding sensitivity to his character's growing confrontation with death. Outside of Nixon's nuanced turn and a finely shaded appearance by Brian Stokes Mitchell as Dylan's doctor, support tends toward types.
Digitally shot pic is plain is all aspects, reinforcing the sense it will look best on the small screen. Nelust Wyclef Jean (adding his birth name to his stage moniker) shows up in a slight role as a Gotham cabbie and with a nice closing credit tune.
Camera (Technicolor, DV), Christopher Norr; editor, Michael Berenbaum; music, Anton Sanko; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; production designer, Stephen Beatrice; set decorator, Cherish Magennis Hale; costume designer, Jill Newell; sound (Dolby Digital), T.J. O'Mara; supervising sound editor, John Werner; line producer, Gwen Bialic; associate producer, Ramsay Fong; assistant director, Urs Hirschbiegel; casting, Amanda Harding, Amanda Koblin. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 12, 2005. Running time: 96 MIN.