A remake of a remake, Last Man Standing fails to pay its homage well. Based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 samurai adventure Yojimbo, the movie features a lone gunfighter (Bruce Willis) who attempts to play two rival gangs against each other in a dead-end town.
When he came to a fork in the road, Kurosawa’s wandering samurai threw his sword in the air; Willis’ drunk spins his whiskey bottle. Both point the way to a viper’s nest of violence and death. For Willis, that place is Jericho, Texas, a town torn between two bootlegging gangs. The gunplay has sent most of the town fleeing for their lives; only the undertaker stayed behind. Hoping to make some quick cash, Willis sells his “services” to both sides.
As originally played by Toshiru Mifune, this “man with no name” was a mischievous comic. Later, in Sergio Leone’s 1964 remake, A Fistful of Dollars, Clint Eastwood made him a terse killer. Willis is a combination of both: real violence lies behind that smirk.
Retaining Leone’s Western setting gives writer-director Walter Hill (48 Hours; Wild Bill) a robust backdrop to work with. There’s an austerity to the images of this town, where men in suits pace the lone street, fresh corpses stand in the undertaker’s window and dust blows all around.
Willis tells us everything – what we already know, what we don’t need to and what we would rather figure out for ourselves.
But Last Man Standing isn’t content to let us simply see the dust. The movie also has to tell us that it’s there. Through an extended voiceover narration, Willis tells us everything – what we already know, what we don’t need to and what we would rather figure out for ourselves.
Ever since Yojimbo, the mysterious motive of this warrior hero has been the gist of the tale. We know he is more than a gun for hire, but what is it that he wants? Money? Revenge? Simply the thrill of the kill? Previous film versions have lent clues but not answers, making the stranger a myth.
But in Last Man Standing, he’s just a mope. “No matter how low you sink, there’s still a right and a wrong,” Willis helpfully explains at the movie’s start. Later, in a scene that deflates whatever dramatic tension exists, a character asks Willis what his curse is. “I was born with a conscience,” he replies.
Hill’s other additions to Kurosawa’s story are a little more than gratuitous filler. There is implanted sex (one of Willis’ first stops is a brothel), heightened violence (bullets routinely send enemies flying into the air) and gooier blood (after getting beaten up, Willis’ face looks like a smashed tomato).
Though Bruce Dern and Christopher Walken enliven their roles as a wish-washy sheriff and a psycho henchman, the other actors fall flat. None of the women (Karina Lombard, Alexandra Powers, Leslie Mann) are able to rise above their stock characters, and Michael Imperioli is equally formulaic as a hotheaded punk. Yet none of these missives irked me as much as that non-stop narration.