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
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
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes