Director: Joseph Merhi
Writer: Joseph Merhi
Cast: Jeff Wincott, Jonathan Fuller, Jillian McWhirter, Steve Eastin, Robert LaSardo, Johnathan Banks, Michael Green, Ava Fabian
More than two weeks have passed since we last visited Jeff Wincott’s filmography and everyone from EFC and WSW to this guy I cut in line at the train station to buy a Metro card encouraged me to watch his 1996 film Last Man Standing. Never before has my inability to resist the power of suggestion aligned so perfectly with my inability to decide on the next movie in my queue to review. If you only watch one 1996 film called Last Man Standing, make sure it’s this one and not the uneven Yojimbo retread with Bruce Willis (suggested for Walter Hill completists).
The film opens with a bombastic bank robbery which serves to exhaust roughly 70% of the film’s budget and introduce some of the film’s villains. Lucretia, played by Playboy Playmate Ava Fabian, never met a parked car rigged with explosives to deter pursuing police cruisers that she didn’t like. While she doesn’t expose the goods in this film, she does smoke a movie-set doobie with Kazz (LaSardo), the gang’s tattooed muscle. The team is led by a violent psychopath named Snake Underwood, played by DTV veteran and Skyscraper survivor Jonathan Fuller. The heist goes swimmingly and Snake meets up with some additional cohorts at a hotel later on to divvy up the loot.
Despite the successful operation, Snake and company commit the cardinal sin of staying past the check-out time in the hotel’s fanciest suite, prompting the uppity hotel manager to call the police. Answering the call are Detectives Kurt Bellmore (Wincott) and Frank Kane (Banks). The latter is a burned-out cop on his last legs, with all the cynical trappings befitting a veteran of the force. His younger but experienced counterpart still believes in the integrity of the badge and has a revolving collection of colorful sports jackets that would make Craig Sager blush. After Bellmore and Kane rush the room of thugs, no less than a half-dozen windows and a hotel kitchen are destroyed during the chase to put Snake in handcuffs. The hotel manager would have been really pissed about the damages had he not already been shot to death.
After Snake suspiciously makes bail and key evidence goes missing from the bust, Bellmore’s perception of his department, its members, and the police force at large begins to unravel. Kane reveals that he’s been working on a book about the corruption he’s observed in his decades on the force, and that names will be named. Lawmen at the highest reaches of the city org chart are bristling with defensiveness around the arrest and release of Snake Underwood, and it’s only a matter of time before the fact-finding Bellmore is marked for elimination.
Two Wincott movies, each with a protagonist fighting a system of law that is at best, dysfunctional, and at worst, completely corrupt. The plot itself is nothing new, but the overall tone of each film could not be more different. When Mission of Justice was released in 1992, the cinematic world was still coming down from the high of an amazing run of 1980s action. To capture that mood the filmmakers injected the proceedings with liberal doses of cheese and camp. Things change rapidly though, and Last Man Standing is content to shed the goofiness and instead wade in a desperate pool of whiskey, gun powder, and cigarette butts. In other words, it’s a much more serious (and unhealthy) place and time.
It’s apparent throughout the film that Bellmore has dual citizenship; while he was obviously born in the U.S., he spends the majority of the year in Flavor Country. Seriously, we haven’t seen chain smoking this entertaining since that fat Indonesian baby or Andrew Stevens in Blood Chase from our last review. Of all the batshit crazy things that happen in this movie, the chain smoking is actually the element which requires the greatest suspension of disbelief. As any regular smoker can attest, there’s little to no fucking chance you have the wind to spend your workdays chasing people on foot at the rate Bellmore does in this film. Especially in snake-skin cowboy boots.
It should surprise no one that Spiro Razatos is back at it again as stunt coordinator; his fingerprints are all over the over-the-top action choreography. Without question, the standout scene is a nearly ten-minute freeway chase between Snake and friends in a stolen armored truck full of cash and Bellmore on a commandeered motorcycle. To add insult to injury, or perhaps because you can’t place a value on eye safety, our hero commandeers the owner’s BluBlocker aviators too. The high speed pursuit sees multiple carsplosions and dingers before Bellmore launches himself into the back of the truck for a brief fist fight before falling out and getting dragged behind the vehicle for a few exits. The only body parts not shredded by the asphalt were apparently Bellmore’s lungs, because he’s puffing away with a towel draped around his shoulders in the very next scene.
Much like its cinematic brethren Rage, Last Man Standing is a PM Entertainment joint that hangs its hat on loud and dangerous stunt pieces while de-emphasizing the role of hand to hand combat. The dearth of martial arts action would piss you off were it not for the film’s great chase sequences, multiple carsplosions, and squibtastic shootouts. Still, I counted three or four Wincott fight scenes during the runtime, including one that managed to rouse a daytime strip club crowd from its unsanitary buffett-induced haze.
Last Man Standing is a great piece of stunt-driven action spectacle and I’ll allow myself an awkward hyperbolic Jackie Chan comparison by positing that if Mission of Justice was Jeff Wincott’s Drunken Master II, this film is his Police Story. Despite its budget, this is a grade-A effort on virtually all fronts and quite possibly one of the top three films upon which PM Entertainment has ever slapped its prestigious name.
Netflix, Amazon, EBay.
6.5 / 7