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Last Man Standing

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Last Man Standing

Starring: Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken
Director: Walter Hill
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: September 1996
Genre: Action

*Also starring: Bruce Dern, Alexandra Powers, David Patrick Kelly, William Sanderson, Karina Lombard, Ned Eisenberg, Leslie Mann, Michael Imperioli

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

Let's create a high concept movie. First, we will get quintessential action writer and director Walter Hill (48 HRS., ANOTHER 48 HRS., ALIENS, ALIEN 3, and WILD BILL among others). Now we need that high concept. Viola, let's remake Akira Kurasawa's 1961 classic YOJIMBO (THE BODYGUARD), but here comes the great twist. We will make it in the style of Sergio Leone's 1964 cheap spaghetti Western FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. Westerns don't sell anymore so we will switch it to the Texas border during Prohibition. And if that isn't enough, for the piece de resistance, we'll cast Bruce Willis as the Clint Eastwood for the 90s. We need a name that tells the story, so LAST MAN STANDING it is. Okay, now stand back and watch the dollars roll in.

By now, you are probably either thinking that this is one of the stupider ideas you have heard recently or that this could be a lot of fun. Well, the truth is that this highly atmospheric piece of cinematic nonsense is fun albeit not that much. Back in 1964, Eastwood's invulnerability was original enough to be hokey entertainment. Here watching Willis as outlaw John Smith gun down scores and scores of people before getting hit is so derivative that the film quickly bogs down. Nevertheless, the show may be worth watching for the atmosphere and the images.

The film starts with hired gun Smith riding into the Texas town of Jericho run by Sheriff Ed Galt (Bruce Dern). There are two rival Chicago gangs - an Italian one run by Fredo Strozzi (Ned Eisenberg) and an Irish one by Doyle (David Patrick Kelly) - that have run almost everyone out of town. When they aren't killing each other, the gangs earn a living shipping illegal booze from Mexico. Smith is a freelancer who alternates sides and slowly kills off each gang.

The town looks just like the Western town in FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. There is even a dead horse in it to remind you of the linkage. The cinematography by Lloyd Ahern (WILD BILL) and the sets by Gary Wissner (SEVEN, THE ABYSS, and WYATT EARP) are certainly the best and most imaginative parts of the film. They paint a beautiful homage to the Western towns in Eastwood's films. The most effective atmosphere is the blowing sand reducing visibility to about ten feet, but there are also large rain storms and blinding rays of sun to enjoy.

Soon John Smith gets paid by one side and then the other to go guns blazing to wipe out a few more bad guys. The costumes by Dan Moore (WILD BILL) are all hats, suits, vests, big pistols, and Tommy guns. In the many Tommy guns massacres, I kept looking for Bonnie and Clyde to appear at any moment.

Hill's script is populated with terse dialog in pure Eastwood style. Doyle tells Smith, "I figure you as the kind of guy that always goes to the highest bidder." Smith refuses his offer with, "I may be a gun for hire, but I'm not exactly an assassin." Got that distinction partner?

Actually, Doyle already has in his stable a shooter named Hickey so evil that he slit his father's throat, and then when he was sent to an orphanage, he burned it down with all of the kids in it. This meanest of the mean is played with subtle gusto by Christopher Walken.

Hill tries to make Smith into some kind of introspective philosopher, but this unbelievable silliness is laughable. Doyle has an imprisoned mistress named Felina (Karina Lombard star of WIDE SARGASSO SEA) who confesses to Smith that, "My fear is my curse. What's yours?" He retorts, "I was born with a conscious." Later when he goes out on a limb for someone and his killing prowess suffers, he laments, "You can know the rules and still do the wrong thing."

Still our philosopher killer is not perfect. In one of his aphorisms, he reflects that, "I always like sinners a lot better than saints." He also shares with us the tautology that, "Everybody ends up dead. It's just a matter of when." This justifies his slaughter of another dozen guys. By an hour into the picture the audience is totally anesthetized to death. People with large holes and flowing blood become nothing more than targets in a video game.

In a completely predictable show, I thought there was going to be a mildly surprising ending. Sad to say, it was not to be. As soon as you hear the plot, you can write the rest of the script yourself and save your seven bucks. Of course, if you do you will miss out on some great atmosphere.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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