The debate about how we leave the planet has raged on since Adam first tasted fruit and ran for a fig leaf. Millennia later, the discourse hasn’t let up. From abortion to euthanasia, assisted suicide to “apparent drug overdose,” the population is regularly and often medically culled. Plagues, wars and natural disasters are just as commonplace, but those deaths can, at least, be insured, thus providing cold-cash comfort to the survivors.
In director/writer/cinematographer/actor Mick McCleery’s world, The Altruist, the ultimate dating service is provided (for a fee) in the form of Terminal Assist Inc. That’s a deadly successful company that matches those who wish to end life on their schedule with ruthless murderers who never have to worry if there’ll ever be a second date.
Rather than languish away with cancer or emphysema, the willing can be efficiently snuffed. Then they are recorded as statistics of crime even as their piece of the rock is paid out in full to loved ones that needn’t bother themselves with the daily drudgery of watching a mate expire in slow motion.
With Billy Franks’ zesty, if at times digitally limited score perking along in the background, the film opens with great promise as Tom Taylor (Larry Schneider Jr.), cracks a beer, clips a favourite cigar and settles down to some uplifting music (“Your arms and legs are broken …”) as he awaits his paid-in-full executioner. But before you can say “‘til death do us part” the unexpected widow, Teresa, (Bobbi Ashton, stoically perplexed but unable to sink into the growing madness as the truth comes out), stumbles onto the bloodbath and discovers both the intruder and his intended are dead.
Cue Nick Andrews (also played by Franks), who as CEO of Terminal Assist is furious at the botched departure—doubly so because he hadn’t given this assignment his executive blessing. Worse still, it was carried out “in town,” thus violating his gentlemen’s agreement with the local law (C. Fox, Mike McAleer and McCleery combining for a fine trio of corrupt cops) to administer at home but keep the killings out of local crime reports. The overlong rant delivered to the hapless staff (quarterbacked with saucy rejoinders by Jonene Nelson as Toni) has a dozen “fucks” too many and, initially, seems so at odds with Andrews’ baby blue convertible.
The firm’s clients are interviewed and assessed by the Weasel (Mike McLaughlin). It falls to The Force (enthusiastically delivered by Nick Cammarano) to solicit the designated killer and instill his own physical code of silence into the hearts of the exterminators. With over three years and hundreds of successes on their résumés, it looks like this venture is destined for its own immortality—none of the clients has ever complained.
But the families do.
As Teresa struggles with the loss of her adoring husband, both his best friend and personal physician, Dr. Carl Nelson (John Innocenzo with an oh-so-cool graveside manner) and Andrews are smitten with the stunning blonde. From this point forward, McCleery can’t seem to settle on his goal: a stinging commentary about society or a campy thriller with twists and surprises.
Sub-plots of a detective firm (ably headed by Norman Taylor) trying to get the goods on the death salesmen and a disgruntled octogenarian widower seeking revenge of his pre-deceased Elizabeth offer dramatic relief and a sense of fun (when you’re that old consequences aren’t high on your stream of consciousness), but the film loses its momentum and just settles down into an interesting tale rather than a must-see take on death-on-demand. JWR