When the characters start talking and the drama starts to unfold, we get men striking macho poses and acting as if they didn't have brains in their heads. This movie is filled with some of the stupidest characters on record. The gangs want the stranger out of town. So what do they do? They slash his tires.
Hill, however, is no doubt aware of the stupidity on display and it is part of the strategy as he upsets our expectations by supplying not an iota of wit between the two gangs. But the stupidity overwhelms the movie. At first the incongruity of gangsters in the West is amusing, but this conceit wears thin after only a few minutes. All the movie then has to offer is dicey-handed gun play, with Bruce Willis acting like Chow Yun Fat lost from a John Woo movie. "You shot some of our guys!" screams one gang member. "The ones that deserved it," says Smith in a scratchy growl.
He plays one gang against the other, creating situations where he can take their money as a bodyguard and then step back while they kill each other. Along the way, he sees the opportunity to right a few wrongs and free the town from organized crime.
But gangsters without walls and buildings and the weight of a city become insubstantial, giving John Smith nothing of consequence to fight. The hails of bullets, smashed windows, and splintered doorjambs don't add up to much. As a result, the characters seem small and pathetic against the immensity of the landscape, belittling any heroics that Willis can manage.
John Smith provides voice-over narration but he remains a cipher throughout the movie. The narration might allow us inside his head, but all we get are dry homilies, such as "Everybody ends up dead. It's just a matter of when." Even with actors such as Bruce Dern (as the town's sheriff) and Christopher Walken (as a psychotic hit man), the drama grates and never acquires much momentum.
One of the pleasures of Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars came from watching Toshiro Mifune and Clint Eastwood eliminate the corrupt influences like avenging angels. But Last Man Standing provides little thrills. All the fights play out as rigged, staged affairs, like you'd see on a tour of a studio backlot. The artificiality overwhelms the action.
Last Man Standing is a text book example of how to take great material and fashion a bad movie.