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The ‘Last Man’ Standing

by Naomi Pfefferman

March 7, 2002 | 7:00 pm

Jeri Ryan and David Arnott in "The Last Man." Photos courtesy of Castle Hill Productions

Jeri Ryan and David Arnott in "The Last Man." Photos courtesy of Castle Hill Productions

Harry Ralston admits the scruffy Jewish intellectual in his neurotic comedy, "The Last Man," opening today in Los Angeles, is "the ultimate worst version of myself."

After an apocalypse, Alan Gould (David Arnott) thinks he's the last guy on earth, so he's making a video "bible" for future humans. Except he breaks his own moral code when his twosome with a babe ("Star Trek: Voyager"'s Jeri Ryan) is crashed by a charming stranger. "The minute he's tested, he fails," says Ralston, who is himself a Jewish intellectual.

The 38-year-old director, who was bar mitzvahed at a New York Reform synagogue, made Alan Jewish, to emphasize his outcast-status. "It's also amusing, because even when you get rid of almost everyone on earth, the Jew is still in the minority."

Ralston began "The Last Man" after communism fell, in 1992 -- the year he quit a cushy ad job in Chicago to write screenplays in Mexico. He'd noted that the communists had sanctimoniously promoted Marxism, but human nature had corrupted the system. A less profound impetus: "I've found that people, including myself, have a profound need to be right," he says. "Everyone who drives slower than you is a moron. Everyone who drives faster is a maniac."

Ralston and his friend, filmmaker Tamara Hernandez, hardly thought they were right when they decided to make their respective directorial debuts -- two films -- for the price of one.

While the gambit had its advantages -- including giving potential investors two chances to get their money back -- it also required a breakneck-production schedule.

The two directors were rewarded when their movies earned kudos on the festival circuit; now Ralston hopes his post-apocalyptic love triangle offers a caveat post-Sept. 11. "I hope that [viewers] will take from the film that they don't have all the answers," he says.

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