"Last Man Standing"
Opened: Sept. 20, 1996 | Rated: R
Director Walter Hill's vision for "Last Man Standing" is that of a classic Western tweaked for a Prohibition-era setting.
In fact, he adapted the film from "Yojimbo," the Akira Kurosawa samurai-for-hire classic that was remade once before as "A Fistful of Dollars" with Clint Eastwood.
Hill's version, starring Bruce Willis as the nameless gunslinger, takes place in a nearly empty Texas border town where two Chicago-based bootlegging clans battle for control of the Mexican smuggling trade.
It's a handsome film, quite dusty and mysterious, and with the rudiments of the Western in place -- boardwalks, swinging saloon doors, blowing tumbleweeds, and even hitching posts (with rumble-seat Fords ponied up to them in place of horses). But very quickly "Last Man Standing" degenerates into a string of silly shoot-outs in which bullets from small caliber hand guns send guys flying 15 feet.
This didn't have to be a bad thing, but Hill treats his shoot-em-up cliches with such sobriety as to take all the fun out of them.
Gunfighter Willis rides into Jericho, your standard wood-plank town on the barren plains, just like a cowboy -- except in a gangster's three-piece suit and driving a car.
In a matter of minutes, his windshield is smashed and his tires sliced because a moonshine-running mobster didn't like the way Willis looked at his girl.
Our hero moseys into the empty saloon ("All the good folks have left town," the barkeep tells him), tosses back a shot of whiskey, unpacks his pistols and kills a few guys.
He accepts tough-guy jobs from both mob families and proceeds to play them against each other until...well, the title tells the rest.
Hill made every effort to give the film a heavy aura and a period flavor. The actors sound natural delivering a vast array of '30s colloquialisms and dress in full mobster regalia despite the blistering west Texas climate.
Christopher Walken, even creepier that usual, plays a mob enforcer who takes a disliking to Willis, and there is a dangerous edge to every scene.
But the movie bashes along at such a rushed pace that Willis' breathy voice-over has to substitute for any kind of depth or development.
The mobsters rush to anger and rush through gunfights. The throw-away girlfriends rush to doff their duds (especially for Willis). And Willis' loyalty rushes from a gang to a girl to the other gang to himself, and at times it's not clear what he's doing or why.
If Hill hadn't depended so heavily on the conventions of his two genres, "Last Man Standing" could have been a great cross between "Unforgiven" and "Little Caesar," the textbook '30s gangster movie with Edward G. Robinson. But instead it's nothing more than a sub-standard shoot-em-up that takes itself way to seriously.