'The Last Days of American Crime': Film Review

The Last Days of American Crime Still 3 - Publicity-H 2020
Courtesy of Netflix
Instantly forgettable tough-guy fantasia.

Edgar Ramirez and Michael Pitt plan the literal heist to end all heists in Olivier Megaton's Netflix thriller.

A poorly imagined crime flick that comes nowhere near justifying its 2.5-hour running time, Olivier Megaton's The Last Days of American Crime adapts a graphic novel in which the U.S. government has built a mind-control ray — maybe this is that 5G conspiracy the Alex Jones crowd has been ranting about? — that will soon prevent would-be villains from breaking the law. Hoping to pull off one last heist before that project goes online, three nogoodniks (Edgar Ramirez, Michael Pitt and Anna Brewster) must first manage to fit their egos into the same room long enough to forge a plan. But their hard-boiled attitudes are transparently phony, and Megaton (the not-exactly-nuclear talent behind some Taken and Transporter sequels) isn't sly enough to see the self-parodic potential in the ingredients he has assembled.

The brain beam is called the American Peace Initiative (API), and while news reports acknowledge a national controversy over its development, nothing in the script by Karl Gajdusek and Rick Remender suggests any Minority Report-style interest in the ethical ramifications of this style of policing. (The film does mention that police officers can get a chip that blocks the beam's effects. But instead of elaborating on this in a way that might resonate with current protests against violent policing, the film drops it in favor of other subplots.) When the transmission is working, any person about to do something wrong will suffer a frozen-in-space paralysis reminiscent of those Professor Xavier sometimes caused in Logan — unless that person is trying to assault a cop in the story's last act, in which case the API's power is weirdly selective.

The authorities have conveniently put up giant countdown clocks all over the place, letting schemers know exactly how long they have left to misbehave. But the son of an infamous Mob boss thinks he sees a loophole: Swaggering rich kid Kevin (Pitt) and his hacker fiancee Shelby (Brewster) think they can disable one Michigan API tower for 30 minutes after it turns on, allowing them to rob what they refer to as a "money factory" and get across the Canadian border before cops get their act together.

The prospect of driving a truck full of money into the land of poutine should be ample motivation for this caper, but Gajdusek and Remender set aside plenty of time to give characters backstories explaining additional motives. They even set up a time-eating subplot for a cop (Sharlto Copley) who'll play a minor role in the third act. Why? Maybe the filmmakers think they're building an operatic narrative to suit their momentous title; but in practice, all these little bits of narrative make the movie seem small instead of epic.

Overplaying his part as a twitchy sociopath, Pitt needs a foil. Enter garden-variety criminal Graham Bricke, whose surname seems to have informed Ramirez's flat, uncharismatic performance. Bricke is meant to be the lynchpin here, so essential to the heist that Kevin is willing to send his lady to seduce him. Aside from hunkiness, it's hard to understand what makes Bricke essential; but as the movie's voiceover admits, "sometimes everything is just bullshit."

Throw in nearly incomprehensible plot points involving suicide pills, $5 million in counterfeit cash, and an enemy who survives a Michael Bay-sized explosion, and you have a movie that even Netflix doesn't seem to expect anyone to watch: On the day of its release, Last Days didn't seem to be anywhere on the streamer's home page, or in submenus devoted to Netflix Originals and new releases.

Production companies: Radical Studios, Mandalay Pictures
Distributor: Netflix
Cast: Edgar Ramirez, Michael Pitt, Anna Brewster, Sharlto Copley
Director: Olivier Megaton
Screenwriters: Karl Gajdusek, Rick Remender
Producers: Jesse Berger, Jason Michael Berman, Barry Levine
Executive producers: Karl Gajdusek, Matthew O'Toole, Rick Remender, Matlock Stone, Kevin Turen, Michael Yedwab
Director of photography: Daniel Aranyo
Production designer: Sebastien Inizan
Costume designer: Reza Levy
Editor: Mickael Dumontier
Composers: The Liminanas, David Menke
Casting director: Jaci Cheiman

148 minutes