Imagine a plot that was used for two action film classics. Imagine a director who had made himself famous by creating action film classics. Imagine him using the above mentioned plot. If you think that the result of such combination is supposed to be another action film classic, Last Man Standing, 1996 film directed by Walter Hill,
would lead you to think again.
The plot is set during Prohibition and takes place in Jericho, small Texan town near Mexican border. Its location is reason why two rival gangs of booze-smugglers are fighting for control over it. One is Irish, led by psychopathic Doyle (played by David Patrick Kelly), and another is Italian, led by Strozzi (played by Ned Eisenberg). During the truce, a drifter named John Smith (played by Bruce Willis) arrives to town and quickly displays great skill with guns. As such, he draws attention from both gangs and receives offers of employment. Smith decides to play both gangs against each other in order to come at the top as the last man standing.
Walter Hill used to be great action film director in 1970s and 1980s, but in 1990s his opus left too much to be desired. Actually, Hill leaves impression of being overwhelmed by the high standards left by two great directors who had handled the same plot – Akira Kurosawa (Yojimbo) and Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars). Transfer of plot from 19th Century Japan and Wild West worked, but hardly anything else in this film did, mostly due to some baffling creative decisions. While 1930s fedoras and Tommy guns can somehow co-exist with Wild West setting of a dusty border town, Ry Cooder's rock-oriented musical score can not. Voic over by Bruce Willis' character also destroys any sense of mystery that had been radiated by Toshiro Mifune and Clint Eastwood in their incarnations of amoral mercenary. Finally, Hill finds time to add character of Texas Ranger (played by Ken Jenkins), whose moralistic tirade doesn't serve any purpose to the story.
When it comes to action, Hill seems more interested in quantity than quality. There are numerous violent encounters with huge body count, but the audience would hardly feel excited (mostly thanks to the voiceover which leaves few doubts of protagonist coming out of those gunfights alive). Bigger problem in the film is complete lack of humour - unlike Kurosawa and Leone, Hill approaches this story with the seriousness more suitable for funeral procession than for action film. Acting is mostly good, with Bruce Willis trying his best to rescue this film, and being aided by couple of character actors. David Patrick Kelly, who tries too hard to impersonate James Cagney, is not among them. Although watchable, mostly due to Willis' charisma, Last Man Standing is cold, uninspired film that shows Walter Hill not being able to compete with the old masters of cinema.
RATING: 3/10 (+)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on September 15th 2003)
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