Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old.
How do you like your action? Peppered with chipper, cheeky one-liners or caked in hot piss, mud, and blood? If you’re looking to let off some steam with a bit of nonsensical but cheery Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi silliness, it’s best to rent The Running Man. If you want to stew in filth and let your anger percolate as Edgar Ramírez brutalizes and gets brutalized, go ahead and press play on Netflix’s The Last Days of American Crime.
Based on the graphic novel by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini, the film is directed by Olivier Megaton, who made his bones breaking Liam Neeson’s with the Taken sequels, and it’s a grim saga of a near-future on the verge of an apocalypse — a.k.a. a world just a few steps ahead of the one we currently occupy. As the government prepares to launch the American Peace Initiative (API), which is a mysterious signal capable of suppressing all criminal thought, the citizens take to the streets for one last purge of death and destruction.
The final week of debauchery mostly amounts to various acts of looting and bare-breasted cartop dancing, but for Ramírez’s Graham Bricke, it’s an opportunity to pull off one last score. What should be a simple excuse for criminal-on-criminal ultraviolence is instead muddied by the API’s presence. Where there is a mind-altering radio wave, there will also be plenty of bait and switch and confusion.
Bricke has lost the thrill of the hunt. His brother Rory (Daniel Fox) killed himself in prison, and the loss transformed Bricke into a lumbering morose sack of frowns. He’s reenergized after he hooks up with Shelby Dupree (Anna Brewster) in the bathroom of a hellish dive bar. Bricke’s enthusiasm strengthens even further once Dupree’s scuzzball psycho lover Kevin Cash (Michael Pitt) reveals that Rory was beaten to death by prison guards while he watched. If Bricke wants revenge on the system, he should join Cash in knocking over the government’s “money factory” where bills are made and destroyed.
All is well and good until Cash turns his shotgun on Bricke and blasts a hole in his belly. Why? Rory did not kill himself, and he was not beaten bloody by prison guards. Instead, Cash tells Bricke that it was he who ended his little brother’s life. In the process of ceasing Rory’s motor functions, Cash discovered nihilism: the sweet bliss of nothing meaning anything.
The philosophy is Cash’s golden rule, and it allows him to bypass the API. His concrete unbelief makes him invincible to the government’s mind games. However, it does not make his skin impenetrable to bullets. Cash is wiped from the board by a barrage of FBI sniper fire, leaving Bricke to fend for himself under the spell of the API.
Ah, but the thug has one last trick up his sleeve. Earlier in the film, Bricke bought an extremely intense, nondescript drug from some punk at the same bar he scored with Dupree. Remembering the warnings of his dealer, Bricke consumes the whole dose, which fries his brain and allows him to operate free of the API, and he slaughters the FBI agents while they’re gloating their victory.
So, Cash defeated the API via nihilism. Bricke bypassed it through narcotics. How does Dupree release herself? She doesn’t. She’s merely lucky.
While Cash, Bricke, and the FBI come to Jesus, Dupree is battling the grabby hands of Officer Sawyer (Sharlto Copley), who can commit all the heinous acts he wants thanks to an inhibitor chip implanted in his brain. In a film already bursting with Deus Ex Machinas, Dupree is rescued when the two wrestle off a table, and Sawyer’s neck falls upon a metal shard.
Dupree explodes the API building, meets up with a gutshot, drugged-out Bricke, and the two flee to Canada. The land of hockey, maple syrup, and free healthcare offers sanctuary, but Bricke won’t live to see it. He expires in Dupree’s truck shortly after crossing the border. She could do nothing for him, but the least she can do is spread Rory’s ashes in an unpolluted lake.
For a film centered on a technological transmission worthy of George Orwell’s ire, The Last Days of American Crime cares very little about its sci-fi trappings. The hows and whys don’t matter. Cash’s philosophical workaround is given a ten-minute showcase to explain how he beat the beam, but without the aid of the rewind button, it’s easy to miss Bricke’s brain damage bypass. Drugs aren’t all that bad, kids.
With a two and a half hour runtime, Olivier Megaton has plenty of space to delve into the science fiction, but he would rather wallow in car chases tangential to the narrative and family squabbles with hints of incest. The Last Days of American Crime is a miserable foray into banality. The flick is convoluted and seemingly infinite in length.
Remove the API from the plot, and not much would differ. In fact, its absence would free the script of its puzzlement. If all you wanted to deliver was Edgar Ramírez chopping his way through chumps just a little more deplorable than he is, then why even dabble in the extraordinary?
The API is a distraction. While it’s easily the most interesting aspect of the film, the script just barely bothers to acknowledge its mechanics. Megaton wants his Children of Men, but in posturing significance, he can’t even deliver his take on The Running Man. The Last Days of American Crime ultimately amounts to nothing more than the latest Netflix dump.