JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Last Stop for Paul (Director/Writer: Neil Mandt) - February 7, 2008
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Last Stop for Paul

4 4
83 min.

Dying to see the world

The allure of travel to distant places is ingrained in some (explorers/astronauts), lurking in the weeds of inertia for others (“We’ll wait ‘til we’ve retired …”) and completely snuffed out by those content to live life largely secluded from the rest of the world (indigenous peoples whose lives are turned upside down by the insatiable curiosity of trade-driven empire builders). And so it is with Charlie (Neil Mandt who also wrote and directed) who’s in search of “the ultimate travel experience”—funded through the proceeds of his marketing skills for bathroom supplies. His trips to the ends of the earth depend on humanity’s daily excursions to void what is no longer wanted on their journeys.

As the film opens, the affable voice-over paints a quick portrait of the young adventurer who travels solo in his quest for the unordinary. Getting pissed on in Red Square is but one example of the intrepid tourist’s appetite to experience life through the, er, eye of strangers.

Back in the Los Angeles office, cubicle-mate, Cliff (Marc Carter, who was also behind the lens) spurns his coworker’s offers to join him on the road. But that suddenly changes when Cliff’s best friend, Paul, leaves the planet prematurely. Cliff decides to fulfill his buddy’s dream of circling the globe by taking a trek with his ever-so-experienced co-worker and spread his pal’s ashes one spoonful at a time.

Based on a true story, the premise works fine if its declamation is a tad cliché rich and over-reliant on straightforward “tell” rather than creative “show.” A nice touch is having only enough cash for the airfare, the duo-on-a-mission bluffs their way into five star accommodations (with appropriate product placement that is only outdone by the ever-present Coke cans) under the guise of being Frommer’s Travel Guide writers.

Those who enjoy exotic locales won’t be disappointed. Carter’s camera serves up a feast of great shots from the Acropolis to the El Colorado ski hill in the Andes (where a wayward drive up and down the mountain with a pair of Irish lads provides some of the funniest moments) to the final destination: Koh Phangan, Thailand and its world-famous Full Moon Party.

Storytellers will revel in a slew of adventures as they are related by folks met along the way. Amy’s (engagingly portrayed by Heather Petrone) abandonment in London (another football widow) unleashes her inner self (aided and abetted by copious shots and beers) and strips down to take first place at a wet T-shirt contest gone wild; Canadian (we’re not all mild-mannered) Will (Gregory Poppen) plays spin the globe with a hottie Vancouverite only to be dumped after his knockout in a Bangkok kick-boxing contest results in a spectacular dive trip but also a severe case of the bends (you have to be there!); in Tokyo, Charlie catches up with his best friend Art (Ron Carlson) who offers the tale of a stolen motorbike (“no one locks anything up”) whose value is paid back twice over due to the sense of shame and honour that is effused in the perpetrator’s family.

Tellingly, Cliff has never heard of Art just as Charlie wouldn’t recognize Paul if he appeared genie like out of the thermos that holds his dwindling remains. Yet, intended or not, here’s the meat of this quick-moving production. It takes an unexpected death to serve as a call to action and morph two colleagues into friends extraordinaire. Along their trip—through shared experience—, they discover how little they really know about each other but then how much more they have in common (sharing a jail cell in Ho Chi Minh City will do that). As important as that understanding is, it begs the question: What could have been the bonds between Paul and Cliff if they had followed the same path when they had the chance? JWR

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