How much you like Final might well depend on your feelings for Denis Leary. Less an actor than a marketable personality-type, Leary radiates a self-absorbed tetchiness that’s couched as wild-and-crazy rebelliousness. He often seems on the verge of breaking character in mid-speech and announcing that he can’t recite another word of this crappy dialogue. With his chiseled looks and air of curried disaffection, he projects a manic inner world, but one without much heart or depth; you don’t need to be told that he broke into show business as a comedian because it’s written all over him. And in Final his archness is pushed to the breaking point. So much of the movie consists of him rattling off riffs and harangues in close-up that his personality tightens around you like a straightjacket.
Leary plays a man named Bill, who wakes up one day in the observation ward of a psychiatric hospital. Ann (Hope Davis), the doctor who’s been assigned his case, tells him that he was found unconscious in a rock quarry. But Bill—sporting a buzz-cut that makes him look like Jim on Taxi—has his own take on how he came to be there. He claims to be the victim of a cryogenics experiment, that he’s been asleep for 400 years, and that the hospital workers are preparing him for the “final”—a lethal injection he’s to receive in 48 hours so that his organs might be used for purposes unknown. Interlaced with flashbacks to Bill’s past, the first hour of Final is a long cat-and-mouse game between Bill and Ann, as he challenges her role in what he’s convinced will be a physician-assisted murder.
Campbell Scott makes his solo directorial debut with Final, but it’s such a dour, lackluster effort that you’d never suspect he had a hand in the robust Big Night. Scott’s glacial pacing hangs silences like a leaden yoke around Bruce McIntosh’s deliberately simplistic dialogue, and his purely functional style turns the film into a lifeless vacuum. Where Big Night’s use of music was rousing and elegant, Final’s R&B-flavored guitar and harmonica are at first distracting and finally teeth-grating. Leary’s dynamic nut routine is expected to hold things together, which means that we have to watch him shouting out drill cadences, smoking imaginary cigarettes, hurling himself into a brick wall like a fullback, doing Elvis impersonations, and pretending he’s in a noisy blues bar. In places, you’ll be wishing for a lethal injection.
Final makes an unexpected left-turn halfway through its running time. It doesn’t fully recover (it can’t, not after that fatal opening hour), but it does improve when we learn that Bill isn’t totally out of his tree—that there’s some truth to his conspiracy-centered ravings. The movie changes from a repetitious two-character play into a cautionary sci-fi flick with a budget so low it can only afford its ideas, but at least Ann’s personal and professional crises take the spotlight away from Bill’s rambling monologues.
It’s not enough, though. McIntosh’s half-formed thoughts about free will and big government are never articulated beyond the fact that he likes the former and mistrusts the latter. The central relationship never comes alive, partly because Ann is such an inexpressive dishrag of a woman that you don’t believe her when she says she’s living a nightmare, and partly because there’s too many moonshine moments like the one where Bill makes her sing “Rally ‘Round the Flag” to him. Final is deadly all right, but in all the wrong ways.
– Tom Block