WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
It is the near future and the United States has fallen into a state of almost complete lawlessness. But when scientists find a radio frequency that will shut down the violent, criminal parts of the human brain, the government finally has a method to end all crime in the country forever. In the days before the signal is to be transmitted, Graham Bricke, a world-weary career criminal teams up with a psychopath and his femme fatale girlfriend to pull off the biggest heist in US history.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The Last Days of American Crime, the graphic novel written by Rick Remender with art by Greg Tocchini, was released initially by the now-defunct Radical Publishing (it has since been republished by Image Comics) in 2010 just as its writer was at the start of an incredibly prolific decade that would firmly establish him as one of the best comic book writers of the 21st century. It is not, it has to be said, one of Remender's better works but as a trashy crime story with an irresistible (if, shall we say, unlikely) high concept, it was an enjoyable enough romp with some evocative but incredibly inconsistent artwork from Tocchini.
That its Netflix adaptation has arrived within weeks of Showmax finally airing Deadly Class, the short-lived but wonderfully unique TV adaptation of Remender's long-running comic of the same name, makes for an interesting study in contrasts.
Deadly Class was a highly personal passion project for Remender. Not only was it based on what is probably his most autobiographical comic book series (in theme, if not in plot – Remender never attended, to anyone's knowledge, a high school for assassins) but Remender was the co-showrunner on the show, writing the majority of its episodes. The Last Days of American Crime was basically just a genre exercise that lacked any of the thematic depth of Remender's best work. He had almost nothing whatsoever to do with its adaptation and even less to do with promoting it – he has barely mentioned in it on social media or in interviews, opting instead to focus on his comics and upcoming adaptations.
It's really, really not hard to see why.
The Last Days of American Crime is pretty faithful to its source in terms of plot, at least, but director Olivier Megaton (Taken 2 and 3, Transporter 3) and screenwriter Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion, The November Man) have somehow managed to turn what was a shallow but broadly entertaining slice of pulpy nonsense into one of the worst films of this or any other year. Don't believe me? Just check out Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic and see both critics and general audiences alike give the film an overall rating that barely cracks double digits – or, in the case of Rotten Tomatoes' critical consensus, doesn't rise a single notch above a big fat zero.
So, what went so wrong in the transition from stage to screen, you may ask? Why, everything, of course. Absolutely. Bloody. Everything.
The acting is, without exception, terrible. Edgar Ramirez, as the film's lead, Bricke, is clearly supposed to convey world-weariness but he mostly just conveys boredom, indifference and more than a little contempt for the audience. Anna Brewster as his potential love interest has zero chemistry with Ramirez, but she at least offers a committed, if ineffectual performance. And these two are the crème of the crop.
Most of the rest of the cast are laughably amateurish, even for d-movie schlock like this, but it is Michael Pitt as the nominal baddie (they're all bad – in every sense of the word) of the story who truly works hardest for your scorn with a performance that, if it was in a more notable movie, would undoubtedly go down as one of the worst in the history of cinema (even home cinema). As it is, it will probably just be forgotten to the mists of time, which, when you get right down to it, is probably a far more deserving fate.
The godawful performances are the very least of the film's problems, though. Even if Gajdusek's script draws heavily from Remender's own, it has none of the comic's self-awareness as an unabashed pastiche of hard-boiled pulp. If the graphic novel works at all (and there are certainly arguments to be made to the contrary), it's precisely because Remender doesn't pretend for a second that the tough guy dialogue isn't ludicrously over the top, that the sex and violence isn't gratuitously exploitative or that the noir/heist movie clichés are anything but noir/heist movie clichés. Remender was clearly having fun indulging his trashier instincts, but he is also a smart enough writer to at least take seriously his characters if readers were to invest in the story at all.
If Gajdusek understood any of that (and, as the writer of the embarrassingly bad, the November Man, I'm assuming not), it certainly didn't make it into Megaton's bombastic, stupid, ugly, uninspired, incompetent direction. Clearly, Megaton just loves living up to his ridiculous nom de plume, but he does so without any sense of irony or self-deprecating humour that someone named Olivier Megaton would really need to get away with it. You get the distinct impression watching one of his films that Megaton took a look at the work of Michael Bay and thought to himself: "Ya know, Transformers CMXVIII was fun and all but, like, what was with all the subtlety, sophisticated humour and beautifully orchestrated action scenes?"
Everything about the Last Days of American Crime is turned up to eleven (thousand), but it is head-pulverisingly dull, utterly lacking in a sense of its own ridiculousness and, at times, simply entirely inept at succeeding at even the most basic fundamentals of filmmaking. And that's just in its sex scenes.
The original comic is a gritty, undeniably sleazy pastiche of classic noir tropes so quite why either Megaton or Gajdusek thought it would make sense as a blandly generic action film is anyone's guess, but the result is pretty much exactly what any sane person would expect from such an incompatible pairing. It's an action movie with precious little action, but with dialogue, characters and twisty heist shenanigans pulled straight out of old pulp paperbacks from the 1930s – just with a few added layers of grime to bring them up to date.
That Megaton is actually a very rote and generic action director is almost beside the point when nothing else about the film adds up in any way, shape or form. The biggest crime here, though, is that it takes Megaton an excruciating 2.5 hours to plod his way through this joyless, humourless, barely comprehensible garbage. Two and a half hours!
Some critics have complained that it is incredibly tasteless to release a film like The Last Days of American Crime with America currently experiencing its own dystopian present, punctuated by racism and police brutality, but that is to give Megaton far too much credit. It is undoubtedly a horribly unappealing film – ugly and idiotic in equal measure – but it is much too stupid to have any sort of philosophy behind it and is far too boring to actually offend anyone. Not that it isn't a thoroughly unwelcome presence in 2020 anyway. It may have sat on Netflix's top 10 most-watched list for a while, but I would be genuinely surprised if more than five percent who started it made it all the way to the end. I certainly almost didn't.
Incidentally, it was shot partly in South Africa and has a small and entirely thankless role for Sharlto Copley but if you're looking for a dose of national pride, might I suggest looking elsewhere...
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: