Typically, when stage plays are poorly adapted to film, the major criticisms focus on a lack of movement, a stilted atmosphere reflecting a production that didn’t know how to open itself up to the scope available in a feature. Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin, adapted from Reg Cribb’s play, by no means suffers from a limited scope, but it does instead make the implausibilities of the original material all the more glaring. Based on a true story from the mid-’90s, Darwin follows a septuagenarian cab driver, Rex (Michael Caton), as he learns he has terminal stomach cancer and opts to end his life on his terms—namely, by being a guinea pig for the first legal euthanasia in Australia. Against all expectations, however, the film doesn’t remotely engage with the ethics at hand but instead uses that odd framework to tell the pat story of discovering who and what is most important in life.

The revelation of Rex’s illness isn’t a big part of the story. We see him living a very humdrum existence, drinking until all hours with his couple buddies and dancing drunkenly around his dog, Dog (Rex was already taken), until collapsing in a heap in his living room. He’s the kind of invalid who chooses to not tell his friends or his aboriginal neighbor/sometimes-lover, Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf), about his condition and just resolves to live harder. But one day he hears Dr. Farmer (Jacki Weaver) on the radio hyping the newly passed euthanasia law in northern Australia and her “machine,” which is nothing more than a glorified laptop that asks three versions of the same question (the equivalent of “Do you know what you’re doing?”) before delivering the lethal dose. Rex immediately calls into the show and admits he doesn’t want to waste away in pain. Despite Farmer’s objections, Rex announces he’s on his way to Darwin.

On to the road trip section of the movie. Rex doesn’t need to tell his friends about his intentions because they were all listening to the broadcast, and although they felt slighted when he claimed to have no one, they don’t put up much of a fight to his leaving. So he signs over his house to Polly and sets out in his yellow cab to cover 3000km of desert. Naturally, he meets characters along the way, including Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a perpetual child and failed footballer who runs from responsibility and family. Involved in shady deals and owing money to some rough guys, Tilly is little more than a headache for Rex. When Rex collapses and spews blood at a desert watering hole, waitress and (convenient) nurse, Julie (Emma Hamilton), is a London transplant who seems to make it her personal mission to keep this little old man alive long enough to kill himself. She has her work cut out for her when Farmer requires approval from a psychiatrist and specialists for Rex to go through with it.

For what is ostensibly a road movie (about dying), Darwin has a hard time holding interest. The actual driving is little more than that, the barren landscape providing some novelty only to eventually heighten the monotony. Any conflicts Rex and Tilly encounter along the way never provide much of a roadblock (and are always Tilly’s fault). Dr. Farmer, as played by a wide-eyed and unconvincingly caring Weaver, comes across as more of an opportunist than a euthanasia supporter. Even when Rex learns he can’t just show up and be given the lethal injection, it’s hardly a big deal since the movie has shifted so completely to focus on his feelings for Polly and hers for him (a side plot that seems altogether forced) and Julie’s nursing efforts. By the time Julie helps Rex hook up the machine behind Farmer’s back, it’s no surprise whatsoever when he halts the injection at the last second.

Like many road trips, Last Cab to Darwin is a circular journey. Rex sees the flaw in his woe-is-me view that only considered himself in his dying and makes peace with the fact that he will slowly, most likely painfully, live out his remaining days at home. His journey provides him the opportunity to appreciate those he will see it out with, but the entire endeavor is fraught with heavy-handed feel-goodiness and ignores the realities of the life and death questions at the heart of this true story.

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