One day last week I came home from work and found a package waiting for me. It had my name on it and no return address. Opening it I found a DVD, something starring Bruce Willis that I had never heard of before called Last Man Standing. I figured my wife must have been the one to order it, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.
When she came home she was as perplexed as I. I did some research and found that the film was from 1997 and essentially an Americanization of the Akira Kurosawa classic YOJIMBO.
‘Interesting,’ I said as I scratched my head and dug deeper into the linear notes I normally wouldn’t have looked twice at. Sorry, but just by the cheesy cover to the box I would never have thought to pick this one up. Plus, Bruce Willis doesn’t necessarily mean gold…
Reading further I found that along with Willis the film boasted a pretty cool cast that included Christopher Walken, Bruce Dern, David Patrick Kelly* and William Sanderson in a role as barkeep and motel owner ‘Joe’ that surely must have been the inspiration for his choice as Deadwood’s E.B. Farnum. Also I noted, Ry Cooder provided the score (Yay! I love Ry Cooder!!).
Things began to look up for my mystery movie.
So first chance I got I iced a few beers and fired this fucker up, fully suspecting what I was in for was an attempt to capitalize on the Post-Pulp Fiction gritty indie crime movie.
Yep. I hit that one right on the head.
From the opening shots you can see the attempts to appease the Tarantino appetite the film-going public had suddenly latched on to so voraciously during the mid 1990’s. The film opens with wide shots of a dusty, sun-seared desert road. Cooder’s score emulates the same scoring you get for these kinds of flicks – Link Wray/Ennio Morricone – distorted guitar chords that hang in the air like sun-fueled Mirages (Miragi?). Willis travels this road into a town prophetically named Jericho looking for a little hideout time before moving on to Mexico, apparently running from the Feds. Jericho it turns out is a town run by two opposing bootlegger mobs**, Irish and Italian, who hate one another but for some reason are, at the start of the movie at least, currently in the midst of a truce. Willis comes in and decides to make some easy money playing both sides against one another. Fun and mayhem ensue.
One fabulous aspect of this flick is the propensity of bad guys, when shot, to fly several feet into the air and across the screen, often employing a scarcely-hidden cable for exaggerated, quasi ballet effect. In this movie, when Bruce Willis kills you he doesn’t just shoot you, he blows your ass across the map!!! And while he’s killing you he’s narrating – yep, this is a Blade Runner-esque narration the whole way through, so you get to hear all Willis’ soulful philosophies on everything from hookers to taking a bath – anybody know where I can get this as an audio book?
I can’t say Last Man Standing was good per se. It really struck me as a quickie attempt to cash in on the Hard Boiled mentality that Tarantino made so chic at that time. However, I cannot discount the sheer joy of seeing some of these actors together. DPK and Bruce Dern alone will get me to watch a movie (well, not always), together they made my day. Especially when complimented by Sanderson. Even Walken, who I love but can only take so much of (since for a while there he was in every movie that came out, before passing that torch to Sam Jackson) was good to see and made the movie, C- as it was craft wise a solid B for enjoyment sakes.***
*I’m a big fan of him starting with my childhood obsession with the film Dreamscape and then further cemented by his role as Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks. Are you starting to see how everything comes back to Twin Peaks for me?
** Did I mention this was the 20’s? No? That’s because it was never really all that clear to me what time period it was. Prohibition, the style of dress and the cars they drive all undoubtedly point to the twenties and yet Willis’ character is prone to using automatic, clip-loading pistols which I’m pretty sure were not invented or at least popularly used until much later. But I could be wrong about that. Is there a gun freak in the house that could help with this?
*** Oh no, I’m turning into one of those douche bags who use elementary school grading scales for art. Oh well, I wouldn’t really call Last Man Standing art, so I guess I’ll put off the Phillips Head Lobotomy for now…
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey