Thursday, July 08, 2010

“Last I heard you were gonna have a talk with some fellas. Next thing I hear one of them's dead.”

Hey look, another Bruce Willis movie. This time starring in an American remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo that isn’t A Fistful of Dollars. Well, what it lacks in Sergio Leone, it makes up for in Christopher Walken. Here's 1996's Last Man Standing.

So it’s a small border town in Texas during the Prohibition. Our hero drives into town and by chance, finds a small gang war going on between Irish and Italian bootleggers and wouldn’t you know? One of the Irish guys pisses him off and there’s a duel. Our hero wins and finds himself stuck in town with two gangs that alternately want to kill him and get him to work for him. Sensing a quick buck, our anti-hero decides to work for both gangs, playing them off each other, until a Texas Ranger comes into town with an ultimatum: in ten days there had better be only one gang in town, otherwise the Rangers will wipe out both of them.

John Smith: Bruce Willis plays our stone-faced man without a past. He’s headed down to Mexico for reasons unknown, but he seems to be leaving Chicago. A tough guy, he does have a soft spot for women and helps several of them get away from the town throughout the film. I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Bruce Willis, an action guy with comedic charm, channeling Clint Eastwood’s humorless stoicism.

Joe Monday: William Sanderson (a veteran character actor) plays the town bartender and probably the most honest, likable guy in town. He lets Smith rent out a room and becomes a valuable source of information and scuttlebutt.

Sheriff Ed Galt: Bruce Dern (another veteran character actor) plays the town’s crooked sheriff. Kind of a jerk at first, he comes to not-hate Smith eventually since he finds the two gangs outsmarted by one guy somewhat amusing (and with the Rangers breathing down his neck, sees John as a guy who can do the sheriff’s job for him).

Fred Strozzi: Ned Eisenberg plays the head of the Strozzi gang and the first gang to hire Smith. Smith returns the favor by seducing Strozzi’s girl Lucy (Alexandra Powers).

Doyle: David Patrick Kelly plays the head of the Irish gang and he’s a lot more on edge than Strozzi. He’s also really paranoid about people looking at his girl, Felina (Karina Lombard), something Smith capitalizes on.

Hickey: Christopher Walken plays Doyle’s top enforcer, a cold-blooded killer with a nasty reputation, a hoarse voice and an appreciation for the Thompson submachine gun. Hickey is also the only crook who starts to figure out just what Smith is doing, which makes him pretty damn badass.

Captain Tom Pickett: Ken Jenkins plays the Texas Ranger who comes into town with the ultimatum. It’s a one-scene appearance, but come on, it is totally awesome seeing Bob Kelso with a big moustache bossing around Bruce Willis.

Directed by Walter Hill with Lloyd Ahern as director of photography. The movie certainly looks good. Visually, it’s a cross between a Western and a gangster flick, so that’s rather fresh. The action scenes are often brutal and it is quite entertaining watching Mr. Smith gunning down hoods with dual pistols.

Alright, so the screenplay is by Walter Hill and based on Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima (which in turn has some similarities to some Dashiell Hammett novels that aren’t The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man). While this film doesn’t have any glaring plot holes or whatever, it certainly feels a bit on the recycled side, probably because Yojimbo & A Fistful of Dollars are both so very well known. Big shoes to fill and all that. The atmosphere of this film is also surprisingly dark, with a lot of death, destruction and unhappy people. Things get pretty bleak at times.

The original music by Ry Cooder is…very 90s, and not really in a good way. Eschewing the big orchestral or jazz sounds that you would expect of a movie like this, a lot of synthesized elements dominate the soundtrack. Moody, sure, but kind of an ill fit for this kind of movie.

There’s not much to say about Last Man Standing. It’s all right I suppose. I didn’t regret watching it and there were a few cool action scenes, so it did what it sought out to do. The cast was full “hey it’s that guy” moments and Willis & Walken both did adequately with the material. However, there isn’t a whole lot this movie does that isn’t done better by other films. This is the kind of forgettable movie that goes great with a hangover; interesting enough without having to tax your brain too much. Not really recommended.

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