Edgar Ramírez Blasts Through Long and Empty Caper ‘The Last Days of American Crime’
Every good thing has a down side. Netflix prides itself on giving filmmakers free reign when it comes to their original feature projects for the studio. This has resulted in some impressively bold projects. “The Last Days of American Crime” is only bold in its running time, over two and a half hours. For most of this large span its sole aim is to check off every required recipe item of a mindless action romp. All the trimmings are here from platinum hummers to heroes who can survive a shotgun blast point blank to the face.
It is the near future, very near (2025), and the U.S. is about to implement the American Peace Initiative. What this means is that the government will implant a chip in your brain so whenever you feel like committing a criminal act a signal will give you a splintering migraine. Knocking over a bank and then knocking down shots, criminal Graham Bricke (Edgar Ramírez) sets a fellow crook on fire and makes off with a lot of cash. Then he receives news that his brother has died in prison but he has little time to process it since a femme fatale, Shelby (Anna Brewster) approaches him at the bar. After a quickie in the nearby bathroom she gets Graham in touch with wannabe gangster Kevin Cash (Michael Pitt) for, as you can guess, a big heist. Cash wants to raid a money-making factory near the Canadian border. After the API is implemented most cash in the U.S. will become worthless (since theoretically no one will want to steal it). But if you can get the money across the border it can still make you very rich. It would be the “last American crime.” As they three plan their operation they also have to deal with a few obstacles along the way, mostly angry mobsters and the FBI.
Little can be said about “The Last Days of American Crime” aside from the fact that it looks very expensive. Director Olivier Megaton is a certified expert at filming big guys with flashy weapons. His credits include “Transporter 3,” “Colombiana” and “Taken 2.” The screenplay by Karl Gajdusek is based on a popular graphic novel of the same name by Rick Remender and GregTocchini. Instead of adapting the story for something believable as film, Gajdusek and Megaton simply translate the premise to moving images without much nuance or meaning beyond loud, shallow entertainment. Much of it results in cartoony or artificial scenes and characters that are just not believable. Graham wanders through chaos-ridden streets with looters everywhere, but there is no explanation aside from the idea that the future always has senseless looting and topless women dancing on top of parked cars. There is a voice over by Shelby in the early scenes with a lot of funny, half-baked noir phrases but then it vanishes by the second act. What is the point of a narration if it does not follow the story all the way to the end?
Devoid of anyone looking over the editing, “The Last Days of American Crime” then slogs for nearly three hours as a collection of random action scenes. Instead of keeping the plot tight and focused on either the big money heist or the API implants, it spends half the time going from one ludicrous moment to another. We visit the mansion of Cash’s high power gangster father just so he can get into a weird shouting match with his sister, then Cash kills his dad after an argument over how he slept with his own stepmother. Every scene is a formless excuse for Megaton to show off a lot of explosions. It is almost easy to forget why anything is happening in a given moment, like when Graham gets trapped in a trailer by a mobster he owes money to and the criminal he earlier set on fire. Of course now the burned thug is eager to get his revenge and leaves Graham surrounded by gasoline and flames. But we haven’t hit the one hour mark yet so someone else conveniently yanks our anti-hero out of the trailer before it erupts into a pricey fireball. Probably only scratched by mere second degree burns, Graham must then complete the obligatory action movie task of saving Shelby before a demented goon tries to have his way with her at some hideout.
During all this time you are left pondering logical questions about the story’s little details. For example, how does the API know specifically that you are raising a knife or fist to commit a crime? What if you are simply opening a package or cutting a juicy steak? It probably has something to do with the cerebral area where it has been implanted, but it gets lost in the shuffle as Edgar Ramirez speeds down an oddly empty city street while firing an AK-47. The same goes for other random side stories like Shelby being an FBI informant or the death of Graham’s brother, which later becomes a ridiculous tool for one of those “reveals” by another character.
The heist itself proves to be slightly anti-climactic. They break into the money factory and get the cash, Shelby is apparently a tech expert who can shut a lot of things down with a laptop and Cash keeps losing his mind. It would be quite the comedy if major actors were not involved. Edgar Ramirez brings that smart, calm demeanor where he doesn’t even scream when a cigar is put to his nipple. He takes a shotgun blast to the stomach and ear but through sheer willpower gets that cash. Michael Pitt, who in his heyday worked with Bernardo Bertolucci (The Dreamers) and Larry Clark (Bully), is entertaining as a psychotic, chain-smoking loser who looks like a surfer gone bad. Anna Brewster gets stuck in another one of those objectified action female roles, required to wear less than the guys for most of the movie but can run a cop’s throat through a shard of glass.
After all that there are still 20 minutes to go in this movie. “The Last Days of American Crime” is not about crime or America, or about anything. Like another recent Netflix action romp, “Extraction,” this movie is confident that enough viewers just want to block out the world with violence that borders on self-parody. Maybe it can’t be completely faulted for that, but at two and a half hours it’s the kind of junk food for the brain that could have been cut down.
“The Last Days of American Crime” begins streaming June 5 on Netflix.