It’s hard to imagine that the definitive studio movie about Trump-era authoritarianism would come from the guy behind “Taken 2” and “Taken 3,” but that sure didn’t stop him from trying. Of course, you should never doubt the delusional self-confidence of a man who changed his last name to “Megaton,” just as you should never put your faith in a filmmaker who’s basically the Mr. Brainwash to Luc Besson’s Banksy.
Here’s the thing about “The Last Days of American Crime” — you don’t have time for this shit. None of us do. And that’s not just because Olivier Megaton’s agonizingly dull Netflix feature is 149 minutes long (a crime unto itself). While there’s never really a good moment to introduce a bad movie into the world, this hollow and artless dystopian heist dreck is also a victim of its own relevance. We’re all for escapism where you can get it — this critic has streamed an ungodly amount of post-curfew “Terrace House” — but watching such a deeply stupid fantasy about the future of American fascism almost feels like a dereliction of duty when the country is on the verge of becoming a police state in real life.
Adapted from Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini’s 2009 graphic novel of the same name, “The Last Days of American Crime” takes place in a desaturated version of tomorrow where the United States government is set to unleash something called the American Peace Initiative: A nationwide radio signal that acts as a synaptic blocker, effectively short-circuiting the human brain whenever it thinks of doing something illegal. Imagine a much, much dumber version of “Minority Report” and you’ll be on the right track.
With less than a week before the API goes into effect, career criminal Graham Bricke (Édgar Ramírez) doesn’t have much time to pull off the big score that’s always eluded him and make a break for the Canadian border. But Graham isn’t the only one hoping to capitalize on the last-minute crime frenzy and take advantage of the fact that most of the police are either being decommissioned or implanted with chips that make them immune to the signal and grant them qualified immunity on a neurological level.
For starters, there’s a topless extra gyrating on top of some wreckage in one of the film’s interchangeably sewer-colored sets, because laws are definitely what’s keeping women from dancing naked in the streets. There’s also a femme fatale hacker named Shelby (Anna Brewster) who wears a jacket with the number “69” on the back (nice!) and has sex with Graham in the bathroom of a bar because “screwing a loser” is on her pre-API bucket list (mean!). It might be worth mentioning that “screwing losers” isn’t a crime, but it would take longer to point out this movie’s plot holes than it does to watch the damn thing, which — we remind you — is already long enough to qualify as immoral.
Okay, okay, real quick: Wouldn’t the signal just make sociopaths into superheroes? And if it covers the entire spectrum of criminal behavior (and not just the street-level stuff that racist politicians like to crow about), wouldn’t most of white-collar America have to find new jobs? Wouldn’t the presumably Republican government behind the API just start twitching in place and drooling on themselves as soon as the signal was turned on? And if the signal doesn’t affect people with brain damage, would anyone who’s sat through the first 100 minutes of this movie even be able to tell when the API was broadcast?
Right, where were we? Shelby the sexy hacker! Shelby is engaged to a guy named Kevin Cash, the volatile scion of an ultra-rich crime family. Michael Pitt — bless his heart — does his damndest to infuse Kevin with enough strung out trust-fund energy to rise above the low-grade inertia that hobbles Karl Gajdusek’s lifeless script (picture Mickey Rourke cosplaying as Eric Trump), but it’s tough to salvage anything from a heist movie screenplay that can’t even articulate what the characters are trying to steal, or how.
We eventually piece together that the government is liquidating trillions worth of cash in order to switch to a more traceable digital currency, and that Shelby and Kevin are hoping Graham might help them steal a mega-fortune’s worth of bills just before they’re burned. Megaton isn’t exactly Steven Soderbergh when it comes to orchestrating a heist, and “The Last Days of American Crime” makes “Ocean’s Thirteen” look like “Ocean’s Eleven.”
For reasons that not even the film itself seems to understand, there’s also a neglected subplot about a violent cop (Sharlto Copley, the “Chappie” era’s patron saint of bad sci-fi) who opts to receive Chekhov’s implant in the first act, and shows up several lifetimes later to fight Graham during the third. Despite Copley’s usual tendency of mixing cheese and hamminess to the point where his movies can’t technically be considered Kosher, his performance might be the most grounded thing about “The Last Days of American Crime.” The film mostly vacillates between too stupid and “too soon” until the whole thing smears into white noise — the equivalent of a sharp radio signal buzzing around your head.
A braindead slog that shambles forward like the zombified husk of the heist movie it wants to be, “The Last Days of American Crime” is a death march of clichés that offers nothing to look at and even less to consider. No one who’s seen “Colombiana” will lament the lack of action that Megaton includes in the film (his penchant for mayhem has never lived up to the whizzbang spectacle implied by his moniker), but it’s still strange how little there is here. Most of the shoot-em-up stuff is so drab and unmotivated that the violence hardly registers until its over, while a choppy second act car chase and a few climactic beatdowns makes you wish that Megaton hadn’t bothered. Maybe he didn’t have time for this shit either.
“The Last Days of American Crime” is now streaming on Netflix.
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