Synopsis – In the not-too-distant future, as a final response to terrorism and crime, the U.S. government plans to broadcast a signal making it impossible for anyone to knowingly commit unlawful acts.
My Take – Over the years graphic novels have been the source of some excellent films like Sin City, 300, Old Boy, A History Of Violence, 30 Days of Night, Kick Ass, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Watchmen, Wanted, Road to Perdition, From Hell, Ghost World, Atomic Blonde, Oblivion and V for Vendetta, well to name a few, which in spite of varying in genre, have found their deserving appreciation either financially or critically.
Hence, as a fan of the medium, I was excited when Netflix picked up this ultra-violent adaption of the 2009 work from Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini, which despite not finding it quite up to the mark, showed immense potential for a big screen adaption due to fascinating premise sprinkled with social commentary and high octane action.
Plus, it cast Sharlto Copley (District 9, Free Fire) in a newly written role, and honestly I will watch anything the South African actor stars in irrespective of the quality.
But I had already built my case for worry as soon as director Olivier Megaton‘s name appeared on the screen. As a director Megaton is known for helming bad sequels in the form of Transporter 3, Taken 2 and Taken 3, along with a halfway-decent film known as Colombiana, but gained notoriety especially for his usage of headache inducing cuts to stylize his action sequences. His visual style also incorporates the nifty angles, harsh neo-noir lighting and lens flares that are derivative of too many B-grade action directors to list.
While the action and editing here is cleaner, clearer, and less jittery with the budget eagerly on display, not the film also has nothing new to offer, as it is produced as a well mounted yet conventional crime thriller, which despite the presence of a sci-fi backdrop, seems like just another excuse to indulge violence, double-crosses and dubiously sourced explosions for 148 minutes.
And unlike the novel, the characters here are lifeless vessels or just over the top caricatures that make you cringe. To make matters worse (at least for me), it completely wastes Sharlto Copley in a thankless role that gives him nothing to work with in this non-ambitious, and utterly humorless actioner.
Set in a not-too-distant future, the story follows Graham Bricke (Edgar Ramirez), a career criminal who still mourning the loss of his younger brother, Rory (Daniel Fox), who died in prison, however, what deeply worries him that in a week, no one will be able to commit any more crimes, because the current U.S. government is set to transmit a signal in a few days under their program called the American Peace Initiative, which will immediately make it impossible for anyone to consciously engage in any criminal and terrorism related activities.
But things get interesting when he is introduced to Kevin Cash (Michael Pitt), the wayward son of another career criminal and acquaintance of his brother in prison, his fiancée Shelby Dupree (Anna Brewster), an expert hacker, and their proposal of a daring last-minute heist, which will make them $1 billion rich, before heading off to Canada, in what will be probably the last offense in American records before the API signal goes off. In a sub plot, which goes literally nowhere, there is William Sawyer (Sharlto Copley), one of the few active cops left on duty, who somehow finds himself in the middle of the heist.
There is no doubt that the film possess a tantalizing premise, something which has attracted filmmakers over the past decade, in an attempt to adapt for the big screen. But besides that particular interesting idea, it’s a highly conventional and thoroughly mildly frustrating crime flick romp, featuring plot and characters based off ancient blueprints. Technically, the film does look good, and has all the means of a complete blockbuster, all enhanced by the some crisp cinematography, however, what brings it down it down ultimately is its overkill in everything else.
It’s an action film, a crime-thriller, a sci-fi yarn, a love-triangle drama, and a heist caper, albeit without any of the elements that make these genres compelling. It has no artfully or viscerally choreographed chases or fights, no compelling cops-and-robbers dynamic, no heady conceptual fodder, no tangible emotional content, no clever schemes perpetrated by the crooks. Some characters are no more than a mere sketch, like the one given to the guy I was excited to see the most, Sharlto Copley, whose story line just never made any sense or point.
It’s all an incoherent smash-and-grab film that drones its grim tune for a sloppy two-and-a-half hours. It is also never clear where, exactly, in the neurochemical process the signal takes effect, or whether it requires an extensive knowledge of legal minutiae for full effectiveness. This vagueness might not matter if the story moved along without bogging itself down in less interesting details, like the backstory of how Kevin knew Roy. Honestly, the graphic novel, never cared to go into so much exposition, maybe this one too should have avoided it.
Making things even worse, is that it revels in misogyny as much as violence. The FBI agents who take Shelby in hit on her and grope her. Other kidnappers abuse Shelby further. We also meet Kevin’s family so they can hash out how dysfunctional they are. It’s just a lot of ugly criminals slobbering over Bricke as they threaten him. Sure, after all an argument may very well be made that it is not precisely an auspicious second for a film about America collapsing right into a fascist state however it’s a good worse time for a film that has completely nothing to say past that and as an alternative focuses on a vendetta and love triangle among the many ruins.
Performance wise, Édgar Ramírez is a statue of a leading man, but the screenplay gives him nothing to work with. Anna Brewster is marginally compelling for this reason, but she’s often stuck playing scenes opposite Ramírez. As I have mentioned twice above, Sharlto Copley is bizarrely cast, in a subplot that literally leads nowhere. His very enjoyable usual overacting freezes with uncertainty over whether he’s a delusional, overzealous lawman or a victim of government overreach. Leaving Michael Pitt as the only actor to take full advantage of this screen time, who is pleasant at instances, and puts in an eccentric-yet-nuanced performance. On the whole, ‘The Last Days of American Crime’ is a distressingly bloated dystopian action thriller filled with drab characters and a potentially squandered premise.
Directed – Olivier Megaton
Rated – R
Run Time – 148 minutes