Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Last Man Standing

One of my all-time favorite movies is the Sergio Leone spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars.  There's just something innately appealing about a cocky loner who knows exactly how bad-ass he is.  When I realized that Leone stole his plot from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, I went out of my way to find that movie.  It turns out that it is awesome, too.  Go figure, a legendary director made a good movie.  So, when I found Last Man Standing, which takes Yojimbo's plot and appears to give it a noir spin, I figured it was a can't miss scenario.  Apparently, only awesome directors can make good movies from this story.

The obviously alias-using John Smith (Bruce Willis) enters the border town of Jericho, Texas sometime during Prohibition.  The town is virtually deserted of decent folk.  The only normal people left are the wimpy sheriff (Bruce Dern), a kooky bartender (William Sanderson), and the town undertaker.  The only other people in town are split between two warring gangs, the Strozzi gang and the Doyle gang.  Smith happens to be ridiculously proficient with his handguns, and not very shy about demonstrating his talents.  With two violently opposed sides, Smith sees an opportunity to play both sides against the middle and make a lot of money in the process.  In short time, the bodies start piling up and both sides are clamoring for Smith's services.  But how long can one man manipulate so many violent people?

It's a pretty basic plot, and it's been done before.  How is Last Man Standing supposed to stand out from its predecessors?  Well, if nothing else, this movie has more recognizable actors in it that its more famous fore-bearers.  Bruce Willis is decent as the quiet tough guy; you've seen Willis as an action hero before, but this script is pretty devoid of quips, so he just has to look tough.  He does that.  He also looks tired, and I'm not sure if that was an intentional choice.  Bruce Dern and William Sanderson were okay as morally neutral supporting characters, but Dern could have done a lot more with his character and Sanderson's wackiness was occasionally annoying.  As far as the gangsters went, Michael Imperioli got to be a whiny Italian mobster; this movie does show how far he came before The Sopranos started, but it's a role he has played many times in his career.  David Patrick Kelly wasn't bad as Doyle, but he didn't have much of a character to play; he wasn't psychotic, for a change, though.  On the other hand, he's only entertaining when he's psychotic.
Bruce Willis, come out to PLAAEEEEEEAAAAYYYY!
Christopher Walken is the only man in town who is in Smith's league, as far as being dangerous goes.  This sounds like an easy role for Walken, but they decided to give him some scarring and a weird voice, so all his typical awesomeness is lost as he whispered all his lines.  You might also recognize R.D. Call as a frequent supporting gangster or Leslie Mann as a hooker, but neither is particularly compelling.

How can you screw up a villainous Walken?!?
But back to Walken.  How do you make a movie with one of the most audibly distinct actors of this era and mangle his voice?  That's like making a Megan Fox movie that doesn't treat her like an object.  That's like having Fred Astaire acting in a wheelchair.  That's like forcing Jean-Claude Van Damme to not do a roundhouse kick-to-the-face in a movie.  In other words, it's not the way the world should work, people.  You know what would have been a better choice for this movie?  Having him talk like any of these people:
Tosh.0Tuesdays 10pm / 9c
Asian Christopher Walken Mash-Up
Tosh.0 VideosDaniel ToshWeb Redemption

Walken's voice isn't the only odd thing about Last Man Standing.  Director and writer Walter Hill made several bizarre choices as he adapted this classic Kurosawa story.  It starts with the narration.  Smith is a man of few words, so having him narrate the story seems a bit unnatural.  His narration is barely inflected, too, so it sounds like he's bored as he explains himself.  And, even though Smith is narrating his own story, he doesn't actually give the viewer any insight into his grand schemes.  Any one of those aspects would make the narration bad, but all together they make for some painful viewing.  Beyond the narration, there is a matter of the action.  Yes, there is a lot of action, in the form of gunfights, in this movie.  Some of it is okay.  The rest is either exaggerated or simply dull.  I'm not a stickler for realism in my super-violent gunfights, but even I can tell when something is blatantly wrong.  I don't know much about guns, but I find it hard to believe that Smith's two handguns could lift any grown man off his feet with a blast to the chest.  And he must have had magical magazine clips for his guns, since they only ran out after he finished killing everyone.
His guns are powered by male pattern baldness.
There's plenty of other dumb stuff, too --- why did the guys at the beginning, who wanted Smith to leave town, ruin his car?  When the bad guys get the upper hand, why don't they kill Smith?  They know everything he knows.  Why are armed men immune to Tommy gun bullets?  To be honest, none of that is terribly important, because the entertainment stops well before any of those questions start to bug the logic center of your brain.
Here's a Google image I found looking for "last man standing."  This picture is more entertaining than this movie.

Last Man Standing has a solid story at its core, but making the lead character tired and humorless doesn't bring out the best in the script.  I love the story this screenplay is based on.  I like movies where gangs fight each other.  I like tough guys that narrate their stories and kill lots of mean people.  But I need to enjoy watching it.  This movie is dreary and emotionless.  The action is nothing special, so the one saving grace it might have had amounts to nothing.  I know that Bruce Willis is not in consistently good movies, but I'm not usually bored watching him; when you take away his smirk and quips, though, you're not left with much to watch.  I was hoping that this would be an underappreciated gem with its pedigree, but this film is just poor.

And, just because this movie depressed me, here's something to cheer me up.  Yes, that's Sharon Stone.


  1. Your three and a half stars are far too generous. This flick had all of the potential in the world (cast & story) and turned out to be a giant bag of shit. Bruce Willis in the lead role of a Yojimbo remake? Sounds like a can't miss (because it is, and that is not even taking into consideration a very solid supporting cast). Well, it blows, again and again. This movie had far too much potential to warrant anything more than a star. And this is all from a director who previously took basic plots (The Warriors & Streets of Fire) and made fine movies out of them.

  2. Ooh...good catch. I originally meant to make this a 2.5'er, but apparently made a mental error. Thanks for keeping me honest.

    And while this movie isn't good, I didn't hate it for its incompetence and I never felt in pain while watching it. At least almost every crappy character dies. That all adds up to about two and a half from me.