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Last Man Standing  

Starring: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, Patrick Kelly Directed by: Walter Hill Written by: Walter Hill

"Everyone ends up dead. It's just a matter of when."

So says John Smith (Bruce Willis), right before he goes on a massive killing spree in the small town of Jericho, Texas. Make no mistake about it - the body count rises to unprecedented levels in "Last Man Standing", Walter Hill's latest bullet-laden action flick.

Based on Akira Kurosawa's "Yujimbo", the story centers around a lone drifter (Willis) who arrives in a "dead end" town that is essentially run by a couple of gangs - the Italian gang, led by Strozzi (Ned Eisenberg) and the Irish gang, led by Doyle (David Patrick Kelly). Most all the inhabitants of the town either belong to one of the gangs, or trade information about them, as does the sheriff (Bruce Dern). After Smith kills a gang member who flattened his tire, both gangs become interested in acquiring his "services". Which gang will Smith join? Does he have a hidden agenda? I won't give anything away, but it is established pretty early on exactly how the story will play out, and that's part of the film's problem. No real surprises, no real interesting characters, just several hundred bullets flying through the air, and one heck of a body count.

But it's not the body count that is the real problem here, it's that the story doesn't have much of an arc to it. Writer/director Walter Hill, who's been making these kinds of movies for a long time now, makes it very clear how the situation will play itself out in the film's first act. The rest of the movie delivers on what it promises in that first act, exactly to a tee. Basically, it tells you what it's going to do, does it, then tells you what it did. And yet it's obvious it was done that way intentionally. "Last Man Standing" isn't interested in being anything more than a violent, adrenaline-pumping, testosterone-laden action movie aimed at a very particular audience. I'm sure there are those out there who will find this film thoroughly enjoyable. I started getting restless about halfway through. (I also found it strange that for a simple action/adventure flick, the film spends a good deal of screen time trying to explain the double-crossing, back-stabbing, and bootlegging operations of the two gangs. None of that really matters, given what will ultimately happen.)

The performances actually aren't that bad. Willis is playing the same type of character he plays in many of his films; that of a down-on-his-luck loner, seeking some sort of redemption. He understands these types of characters and is able to get the most out of them. And Christopher Walken is fun to watch, as the creepy henchman, Hickey. The look of the movie is rather good, as is Ry Cooder's musical score. When it comes to staging action scenes, director Hill is very skilled; and some of the shootouts here are well done. It's just that Walter Hill isn't aiming very high with this project. In the past, he has proven he can make good films ("48hrs", "Johnny Handsome", "Geronimo: An American Legend"), and also make mediocre films ("Red Heat", "Trespass"). As action movies go, he is on familiar ground here - maybe a little too familiar. It's time to move on.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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