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Beat generation lives on in ` . . . I Committed Suicide'

William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg may be gone, but one of their Beat generation compatriots, Neal Cassady, lives on in writer-director Stephen Kay's "The Last Time I Committed Suicide," which played the 1997 Sundance Film Festival and had a limited run in theaters this past summer. (And was filmed in Ogden, Utah.)

Thomas Jane, who played the James Dean role in the Seattle International Film Festival's recent performance of "Rebel Without a Cause," makes his starring-film debut as Cassady, who was the model for the Dean Moriarty character in Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."Keanu Reeves has a supporting part as Cassady's thirtysomething, pool-playing partner, Harry; Adrien Brody is cast as a character modeled on Ginsberg. The script is based on a 1947 letter the 20-year-old Cassady wrote to Kerouac.

"The fragments of the letter heard over the soundtrack suggest a fevered, semi-coherent stream-of-consciousness running on a jazzy, hopped-up rhythm that became a hallmark of Beat literature," wrote the New York Times critic, Stephen Holden, who called the film "snazzy-looking but slight."

The Village Voice's Amy Taubin described it as "a done-to-death romanticization of the Beats, albeit from a Gen(eration) X perspective." Time Out magazine's Billy Lux was perversely taken with Reeves' new grungy look: "Aging, multi-ethnic, unable to maintain the '90s-gym-body facade . . . Keanu Reeves is America."

The real Cassady turns up in "Timothy Leary's Last Trip," an hour-long $20 straight-to-video tape that also features Ginsberg, Kerouac, Ken Kesey and an early performance by The Grateful Dead. The narration is by O.B. Babbs, whose parents were members of The Merry Pranksters, the 1960s counterculture jesters who reunited with the terminally ill Leary for a farewell tribute last year in Laytonville, Calif.

Sting turns up on cassette in "Grave Indiscretion," which was called "Gentlemen Don't Eat Poets" when it played theaters last March. In a role reminiscent of his 1982 British film, "Brimstone and Treacle," Sting plays the sexually ambiguous butler of an eccentric paleontologist (Alan Bates), who lives on a ruined estate with his wife (Theresa Russell) and daughter (Lena Headey). Trudie Styler, Sting's real-life wife and the film's producer, plays the butler's mousy wife.

The picture was such a box-office wipe-out that LIVE Entertainment is attempting to disguise it with the new title. The Village Voice's Brian Parks called it "an amusing plate of English gothic served up with some nicely restrained camp." The New York Times' Janet Maslin found it an "uneven satire" but praised Bates' "good, spirited performance . . . the only leading player here to show real zest." Box Office magazine's Pat Kramer called it "incoherent" and "a film created as a vehicle for Sting by his wife."