Certainly there’s something admirable about directors intent on adhering to the more nostalgic corners of the market. I’m keen on believing that this is doable, so long as it’s done right and not so much that the vision’s bare-bones execution falls short of any storytelling nous that’s usually required for someone behind the lens and yelling “action!”.
The good news here is that director Fansu Njie’s newest action thriller, Last Man Down, introduces a ample-quality presentation to help showcase the potential of its starring actor/producer Daniel Stisen, and potential there is. Even moreso is the signature inspiration that clearly drove this film’s overall look and feel, from its select opening shot – including that of Stisen’s character chopping lugging heaps of wood (never mind that his name is Jon Wood in the film), to a good old-fashioned third act slugfest with the main villain, played by Daniel Nehme.
The opening scene sets up the root tragic moment that perpetuates the journey our protagonist sets out on as the now former member of an armed unit traversing a dystopian Europe where most of the continent’s population has been wiped out by a deadly virus. Wood, who happens to be immune, escapes the unit when he finds himself captive by its commander, Stone (Nehme), who has long since convinced himself that genocide, as well as ownership of the cure once he finds it, will result in handing him an empire.
Fast forward to the current storyline where our stoic, brooding, lumberjacking musclebound survivor lives out his days in a cabin in the quiet of the woods where suddenly, a woman named Maria (Olga Kent) stumbles about from the bushes in the dead of night, near fatally wounded and in Wood’s reluctant care. The rest of the film sees Wood begrudgingly caring for Maria until she can leave on her own – and Wood diffidently acclimating himself to her company – but not before armed soldiers track Wood’s cabin down and ensue one deadly incursion after another.
With both Wood and Maria plotting their survival in the days ahead, the truth behind Maria’s presence is revealed, forcing Wood to rethink his fatalistic worldview and prepare himself for the fight to come. The fracas themselves is a nice watch between kills, although unfortunately much of this aspect of the action is more miss than hit. There’s a decent fight scene or two throughout, but the more succinct fightfare falls unabashedly flat between stuntwork and execution. A poorly performed fight scene between a female soldier and a small squad of men, and a fight between Maria and another soldier who inexplicably (and quite carefully) backflips away from her grounded opponent are only a few spots I’ll mention at this point.
The film’s opener falls short of any cohesive timeline conveyance, which left me wondering when certain events happened and the order in which they happened leading up to the main story. A few of the henchmen are horribly dubbed, the virus itself hardly gets any real integral substance in terms of the science with respect to the story and our characters Wood and Maria beyond what the movie suggests, and the enmity between Wood and Stone produces nothing short of what feels like a contrived, last minute twist intent on upping the stakes as the finale action scene ensues.
At the very least, nearly everything else I mentioned might have been forgiveable if the script was better, but that’s me being too forgiving at this point. And with that, I can say Last Man Down bodes valiantly with its efforts, but doesn’t do much else to flesh itself out and leave a real mark as a cohesive, intelligible action thriller. Simply put, the film just meets the bare minimum requirement as a movie meant to harken back to the beefcake era of action cinema for xennials and those with a distinct appreciation for all things Schwarzenegger and Stallone, etc.
There’s potential for more here…WAY more, but it remains untapped until a better script and sharper direction comes along to better serve Stisen’s own growth and momentum, given the hard work it takes to make these films. Otherwise, without achieving much else, and if this is enough for you as an action fan, then Last Man Down won’t be the last we see of its kind. And that’s the bad news.
Last Man Down opens on Digital and On-Demand beginning October 19 from Saban Films.