Last Man Standing (1996)

reviewed by
A. S. Lenahan

                              LAST MAN STANDING
                       A film review by A. S. Lenahan
                        Copyright 1996 A. S. Lenahan
written/directed by Walter Hill.
a review by A.S. Lenahan
rating: 6.32 (of 10)

LAST MAN STANDING is essentially a rehash of Kurosawa's YOJIMBO with some additional western-film cliches and fanciful cinematography thrown in for good measure. That said, I found LAST MAN STANDING a thoroughly entertaining means of wasting two hours. There's more than enough gunplay and visual stimulation to wash away any empty feelings left by the cookie-cutter script. If you don't take this film seriously (no easy task when planning to write a review), you'll likely find yourself enjoying it, as it does get more interesting towards the climax. Through a critical eye, however, LAST MAN STANDING is a fun but forgettable mixed bag. The film's biggest downfall is the plot, pulled right from the Hollywood recycling bin. A remake of YOJIMBO, but borrowing heavily from every western and gangster film ever made, the script offers little or no new ideas. The story is simple: in a typical lawless town on the Texas/Mexico border in 1931, two rival gangs face off to control the illegal liquor trade. In this town, the line between good and evil is eternally blurred, and the very streets fester and ooze with police corruption, moonshining, and prostitution. Sound vaguely familiar? It's been used in nearly every western since the days of John Wayne. The seedy bar (yes, even in the prohibition), the cheap hotel, the dusty, beaten street, the sheriff's office... all echoes of films past. The film begins when common picture-show tough-guy Bruce Willis drives into town, not expecting to stay. Some local thugs smash up his car, and he sees a girl walk by (love at first sight, of course). As any vigilant viewer can predict, Willis sticks around to rescue his damsel-in-distress and get revenge on the bullies who damaged his precious automobile. It doesn't take a psychic to know how the rest of the film goes. In fast, LAST MAN STANDING probably sets a record for film predictability: it's the only one I've seen yet where the ending can accurately be predicted simply by hearing the title. Of course, there are some plot twists, but ultimately there's nothing new to be seen here. The actors all try hard, with some success. Willis is truly adept at these roles. In some recent efforts (PULP FICTION, the third DIE HARD), Willis' tough-guy aesthetic is so natural and believable, he scarcely seems to be acting at all. Soon, he won't even need a script. Willis adds some much-needed life to this film, certainly. The other most notable actor is Christopher Walken, playing his usual over-the-top nut job role, this time as Chicago gangster Hickey. Hickey has a big scar running down his face (call the cliche police...) and sometimes shoots his tommy gun for no apparent reason. The rest of the cast is mostly average, although I did enjoy seeing the underrated R.D. Call as Joe McCool, another of the Irish gang. The other gang is Italian (at least LAST MAN STANDING can't be accused of political correctness), but too stereotypical to be either realistic or interesting. The performances are among the film's high points, though. The dialogue was very well written, too, considering the script. LAST MAN STANDING contained some excellent stunts as well. Another good point is the cinematography and direction. Every scene has a life and kinetic movement all it's own, a trait not shared by most earlier genre entries. The way gunshots go off in a dark room, a roadhouse burning to the ground with people trapped inside--the camera works with a certain artistry and grace that adds most of the excitement and freshness to this otherwise stale movie. A certain flourish and verve exists in all the visual elements of LAST MAN STANDING. The principal visual element is dust, which adds to the atmosphere and visual style of the film. Some of the sets are stunning as well, especially the abandoned church. Visually, the movie is colourful and interesting. The music is atmospheric and highly appropriate, but not really anything special. Needless to say, a soundtrack is available, but why anyone would buy it is beyond me. The sound effects are well done, especially the gunshots (and there certainly are quite a few of them). Both the music and sound are passable efforts helping to save the film from being below average. I maintain that LAST MAN STANDING is, despite a lackluster plot, an entertaining and enjoyable movie experience. The pace is fast enough, and the action is nearly constant: there seems to be a deadly gunfight in nearly every other scene. The acting is good, and the plot is... familiar. Although the film is not among the best of the year, or even the best of the movies currently in theatres, it provides suitable entertainment for its running time. Ultimately, the unoriginal plot does not haunt the viewer in every frame of film... the visual style does.

--A.S. Lenahan
Camp Hill, PA USA
09/22/96 11:14 PM 
Ratings on a 1.00-10.00 scale. 1.00=terrible; 5.00=average;

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