I kept waiting for the sad clown of life, from the Bud Lite commercials, to appear in "Until the End of the World," which has just opened at the Rotunda. But alas, he doesn't. Why ask why?
Unfortunately, his opposite number, the sad clown of lifelessness, was everywhere in evidence. This nasty scalawag spreads his anti-magic dust on all the proceedings, turning the actors into faintly embarrassed mannequins and the story into a fragile construct of tissue-thin coincidence and foolishness. The sad clown of lifelessness, moreover, transmutes the light touch of German director Wim Wenders ("Paris, Texas") into something hopelessly leaden: The movie appears to be directed by a man wearing a knapsack with an anvil in it.
A combination of two wretched genres -- cheapjack sci-fi and pretentious European art movie -- it's mainly a global game of tag in which a sad-sack crew of dyspeptic Eurotrash pursues a somewhat lightheaded William Hurt across the world of 1999, which is evidently about to end when an Indian nuclear satellite crashes to Earth. But this frame story never provides the tension necessary to drive the movie forward; we're left watching exciting sequences of people taking public transportation. This is the movie that should have been called "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."
The chasers include Sam Neill as a burnt-out novelist, Rudiger Vogler as a private eye in the Eddie Constantine mold, Ernie Dingo as an aborigine intelligence agent working for the CIA and, most importantly, Solveig Dommartin, a Wim favorite, as the morose Claire Tourneur, a self-destructive post-feminist who gives Hurt a ride and wants to be his love slave. She follows him to the ends of the Earth.
Why is everybody chasing Hurt through a low-budget version of 1999? Because his father has invented a camera that can record the images he sees and transfer them to blind people. He's on a global image hunt, and hopes to bring the world as he sees it back to his blind mother, Jeanne Moreau, with the irascible approval of his blunt father, Max Von Sydow.
The movie ends up stranded in the Australian outback, where the big deliverance is finally delivered. Let's let the Warner Brothers media package describe what happens next in that pTC everhelpful language of promotionspeak: "As diverse as these characters are, and as divergent as their goals have been, the motley band of travellers eventually coalesces into a sort of pilgrimage, one that evolves from a group of self-interested individuals into a closely-knit microcosm of Earth's future society."
When you see words like "coalesce" and "pilgrimage," as well as the British spelling of "traveler" in a press release, you know the boys in the big offices are in trouble, too. Perhaps Wenders should have stayed in Paris . . . Texas.
'Until the End of the World'
STARS: William Hurt
DIRECTOR: Wim Wenders