Friday, March 23, 2012

4:44 Last Day on Earth: Armageddon on the Lower East Side

Abel Ferrara is determined to vindicate Al Gore. He will have to destroy the world to do it, but surely that is a small price to pay. Armageddon indeed comes to the Lower East Side in Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth (trailer here), which opens today in New York at the IFC Center.

The details are vague (for obvious reasons), but we are told Gore was more right than even he knew. Global warming has become so severe, all life will end at 4:44 am in some sort of great microwaving, but of course women and children will be hit the hardest. At least it is not daylight savings, because it would be a real bummer to lose an hour tonight. Cisco and his girlfriend Skye will spend their final hours together, as New York prepare for the end.

Frankly, Ferrara’s set up is surprisingly effective. During the first half hour or so, New Yorkers will be reminded of the empathic solidarity that swept over the City on 9-11 and to a lesser extent during the blackout. He really creates a convincing sense of what it would be like to knowingly experience the apocalypse in New York.

As the day progresses, Cisco and Skye frequently make love in between her creative bursts of painting, which is perfectly appropriate given the dramatic context. However, viewers will start to wonder where Ferrara is taking it all. Frankly, nowhere.

Essentially, 4:44 shows us scene after scene of Cisco puttering about his apartment, wrestling with the mother of all existential crises. Late in the day, Ferrara makes a half-hearted attempt to gin up some phony drama, but it quickly subsides. We also get one cheesy montage before its Hasta time.

During the long stretches of Wilem Dafoe gamely channeling his inner Ferrara as Cisco, we hear intrusive excerpts from an old Gore appearance on Charlie Rose and several streaming lessons from the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist teachers. It is as if the secular faith of environmentalism is battling Buddhism for the soul of the apartment. Considering how clumsily Ferrara tilts the playing field in favor of the former, most viewers will want to throw their lot in with His Holiness.

Strangely, despite the Dalai Lama’s archival appearance, 4:44 is largely unconcerned with the religious ramifications of the end of the world. Indeed, it never speculates on the implications for the cycle of reincarnation so important to the Buddhism, but viewers might as their attentions start to wander. In another piece of good local color, 4:44 also shows the final broadcasts of NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan. He might not be particularly well known outside New York City, but that is okay, considering ninety-nine percent of the film’s audience will come from a handful of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan neighborhoods.

As you would expect from such a quintessentially New York filmmaker, Ferrara nails the City vibe, but that is about all 4:44 has. Quite skippable in theaters, it might be worth sampling the first twenty minutes on cable eventually, but do not make any special effort. For Ferrara’s die-hard fans, it opens today (3/23) at the IFC Center.