It’s not exactly a great time to be a movie called The Last Days of American Crime. Not that Netflix’s 158-minute-long dystopian action spectacle has anything to say (good or bad) about our current moment of authoritarian violence — other than to offer yet another insipidly sleazy, lizard-brain shoot-’em-up that through its very dullness demonstrates how rote such ghastly fare has become in our culture. But even if it had been released at a less tense and tender time, this thing would go down like an oversize flaming lead balloon.
Based on a 2009 comic book by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini, the setup does hold some promise — in the not-so-distant future, some crooks plan to steal a billion dollars right before the U.S. introduces a nationwide, synapse-blocking radio wave that will “make it impossible for anyone to perform an act they know to be unlawful” — but we know we’re headed for rough waters right away, as the opening scenes ladle on exposition with not one but two separate voice-overs, alongside a completely inane flashback that has nothing to do with the main story, thus miring us in even further confusion. Our ostensible hero is grizzled career thief Bricke (Edgar Ramirez), who is hired by the eccentrically sociopathic, estranged scion of a local crime family (Michael Pitt, the one fun thing in the whole movie) and his headstrong hacker fiancée (Anna Brewster) — whom we are, of course, introduced to when she waltzes into a grimy bar and immediately screws Bricke in the graffiti and mud-covered bathroom — to pull off what will presumably be the last crime in American history. (Spoiler alert: It will not be the last crime in American history.)
The problem — or, well, one problem — is that the film itself doesn’t seem all that interested in its own premise. One could do so much with a movie set in the days leading up to the transmission of a mind-altering, crime-stopping radio wave. You could have fun with the idea, or you could interrogate it, or you could utilize it as an allegory or even just as a tension-raising structural element. (The Purge movies attempt all of these things to varying degrees of success.) But it wouldn’t be all that hard to take just about everything in The Last Days of American Crime and set it in a totally unspecified present. The film does try to paint a dystopia — crime in the streets, and naked women dancing on cars, and people trying to escape to Canada — but what it delivers is not only generic but muddled. (Is the imminent end of crime what’s causing all this crime? Or was all that crime there before? Also: What??)
Director Olivier Megaton, a Frenchman who built his career on Transporter and Taken sequels, seems to want his film to be a kind of relentless, over-the-top action orgy, and he’s duly loaded it up with car chases and sex scenes and strafings and betrayals and trucks ramming into and through things and lots of grizzled dudes covered in blood spit-screaming into the camera. Also, this movie so overuses the someone-we-didn’t-know-was-there-suddenly-kills-someone-right-as-they’re-about-to-harm-one-of-our-heroes trope that it might as well be a supercut.
But, weirdly, “over the top” is not at all the way I would describe The Last Days of American Crime. “Over the top” suggests imaginative ridiculousness, but, if anything, this film is thoroughly unimaginative. So we get a big, presumably expensive car chase, but the cars don’t do anything exciting; instead, the guys in the cars just fire endless machine-gun rounds at each other while screaming such creative profanities as “Fucking asshole! Son of a bitch!” The heist, when it comes, offers little ingenuity or inventiveness; instead, people just fire endless machine-gun rounds at each other while yelling “You piece of shit motherfuckers!” The film has been stretched out to more than two and a half hours, but don’t mistake that for ambition or brazenness or even indulgence. The Last Days of American Crime offers nothing you haven’t seen any number of times before; it just offers a lot of it.
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