Netflix's 'The Last Days of American Crime' Lives Up to Its 0% Rotten Tomatoes Score
This dystopian action thriller steals over two hours of your time.
Early on in The Last Days of American Crime, a dystopian action thriller that dropped on Netflix last Friday and quickly claimed a place on the streamer's Top 10 chart, a character explains in a growly, self-serious voiceover that he prefers to use diesel fuel when torturing his enemies because it burns "much slower." It's advice that the makers of this laborious would-be epic, which aims to mix the world-building allegorical pop of The Purge series with the gun-toting macho heft of Heat (or, more accurately, the far goofier recent Heat-ripoff Den of Thieves), clearly took to heart. Everything burns slow in this loud, ugly 149-minute shoot-em-up, leaving your patience in ashes.
Released in the midst of national protests centered around police brutality and state violence, this ultraviolet movie, an adaptation of a comic by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini about a heist carried out before the government implements brain-scrambling crime-stopping technology on the masses, has little value to contribute to any national discussion around public policy or American history. If you've seen a handful of Netflix's relatively low-profile science-fiction movies, that shouldn't be surprising. But, as its 0% Rotten Tomatoes score might indicate, The Last Days of American Crime doesn't even work as ridiculous, over-the-top escapism either.
The number of negative reviews, which are filled with descriptors like "lizard-brain" and "alligator-brain," might make you mildly curious. I'll admit that knowing there's a harsh critical consensus around a movie like this often makes me more interested in checking it out than if the reaction is more middling. Maybe all those reviewers are wrong and director Olivier Megaton, the guy responsible for Taken 2 and Taken 3, actually made an underrated pulp parable or some fun trash that's being wildly misunderstood? Édgar Ramírez, who plays the film's grizzled bank robber protagonist, was in Carlos, and that was great, right? Why not give it a shot?
That's the type of enthusiasm I summoned this week as I sat down to watch this movie, which opens with torture by gasoline-dousing and grows more tedious from there. A combination of voiceover and news footage establishes the high-concept premise, which involves a program called the American Peace Initiative (A.P.I.) that will permanently end crime in America by activating "the cop within." What does that mean exactly? There's an electronic pulse-like signal that forces law-breakers to behave, apparently by making their ears ring and forcing their eyes to bulge out like they just drank a milkshake really fast. Until the tech gets fully rolled out -- there are helpful countdown billboards all over the city -- a particularly cartoonish form of chaos reigns in the streets, with broken glass everywhere, fires blazing, and topless women dancing on cars.
The moment provides the perfect opportunity for Graham Bricke (Ramírez) to seek revenge for his younger brother, who was killed in prison under mysterious circumstances, by teaming up with the glory-seeking son of a mob boss (a scenery-chomping, coke-sniffing Michael Pitt) and an M.I.T.-educated hacker (Anna Brewster) to rob a government facility of billions of dollars. The actual specifics of the robbery, often one of the most enjoyable parts of a heist movie, are frustratingly underdeveloped. There's a big truck and some bomb-like devices they attach to a giant safe. That's pretty much it.
Given how bare-bones the plan is, it's reasonable to wonder how the movie fills its excessive two-and-a-half-hour runtime, which typically signals at least some misjudged form of ambition or indulgence. To give the story a little scope, there's also a cop played by Sharlto Copley, but his scenes don't amount to much. There are detours, like when Pitt's character makes a trip to his father's house and delivers some of the loudest acting you'll likely ever see. At one point, Ramírez and Brewster have sex in a grimy bar bathroom to a dubstep remix of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by The Stooges and the movie fully expects you to be like, "Hell yeah, this shit is cool." There are a lot of scenes like that -- moments meant to play as "badass" -- and they are all incredibly corny, less like a Michael Mann tough-guy riff and more like those stickers with Calvin pissing on things.
Eventually, exhaustion sets in. Ramírez, who oddly enough also had a smaller role in Netflix's embarrassing cops-and-orcs misfire Bright, wants nothing more than to escape America after this last job and start a new quiet life. “Take the money, drive to Canada, and die rich," he explains. One imagines the makers of The Last Days of American Crime hatching a similar plot at some point. Get a big check from Netflix, shoot a junky action movie, and die rich. Streaming this movie makes you feel like yet another sucker getting duped -- and what's more American than that?
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