There’s something almost comforting about the colossal lameness of The Last Days of American Crime. The last few weeks have been among the worst in this country’s history — a never-ending torrent of anger and sadness and helplessness — but this very bad Netflix crime-thriller exists outside of that reality, made long before our present moment, dumbly unaware of what’s going on right now. Most will want to avoid the film at a time when rampant violence, a callous government and righteous protests aren’t fictional plot points but, rather, what we see on the news every day. But I’ll resist the urge to take American Crime to task for its horrific timing — that’s hardly the film’s fault. If anything, I was grateful it wasn’t made in the midst of the country’s current insanity — the movie would be exponentially worse if it thought it had something to say.
Based on a graphic novel, American Crime is set five years in the future. Apparently, 2025 is pretty horrible: You can’t walk down the street without random citizens straight-up looting places and shooting one another. The reason is that, in two days, the government will flip a switch that will trigger every American’s brainwaves, keeping them from committing any more crimes. (I cannot explain to you how this works. I guess there’s a part of our brain for “crime stuff”?) Some people are outraged that our leaders are engaged in mind control, some are trying to flee to Canada and then there are those who want to get in a few last unlawful acts before the policy begins.
In the latter category is Graham Bricke (Édgar Ramírez), a bank robber whose most interesting quality is his name. Grief-stricken that his kid brother killed himself in prison, Bricke is rudderless until he meets Kevin Cash (Michael Carmen Pitt), the spoiled, psychotic son of a ruthless crime boss. Cash informs Bricke that his brother didn’t commit suicide — the government killed him as part of their mind-control experiments — and he suggests they team up for one last big heist, which will target billions held by the U.S. government. Bricke should absolutely not work with someone so untrustworthy-looking but, hey, revenge seems like a nifty idea.
I recognize that we all have our unorthodox self-care routines — things that help us restore our sanity that others might think strange. Even in a period filled with terrible amounts of death and social unrest, some folks may want to listen to metal or watch a horror movie to unwind. Leaning into the bleakness can help create a sense of control over unpredictable real-world circumstances. So, of course, there’s a contingent of viewers who will embrace the big, dumb B-movie pulp of American Crime, which is an unholy mixture of Ocean’s Eleven and The Purge. With its cartoonish characters, dopey tough-guy posturing and ridiculous excesses, the film is so divorced from reality that it seems beamed in from a better world where this kind of nonsense is considered “edgy” or “badass.” I mostly just laughed at it — which, I suppose, provided some measure of relief. I haven’t laughed in a while.
American Crime is the latest opus from Olivier Megaton, which is not his birth name but is absolutely indicative of the subtlety he brings to his craft. The mastermind behind Transporter 3, Taken 2 and Taken 3, Megaton is the kind of artist who, after Bricke runs into an old flame — femme fatale Shelby Dupree (Anna Brewster), who coldly tells him during a seduction scene, “Don’t cry: We’re all dogs” — will soon have them fucking up against a restroom wall … to an EDM cover of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Clever!
Everything in American Crime is pitched at that same oh-so-obvious wavelength — it’s a world of brooding men, provocatively dressed women and a litany of other crime-movie clichés. At one point, Bricke walks away from an apartment complex just as a powerful explosion rocks the building. (Spoiler alert: He set up the explosion, timing his escape weirdly perfectly.) The characters talk like carbon copies of noir figures, and our antihero never once cracks a smile. Its worldview is, “Bro, society is fucked-up.” You have no idea how right you are, American Crime.
Ramírez has done good work in films such as Carlos and Zero Dark Thirty, which can help you forget that he also dabbles in junk like the 2015 Point Break remake. American Crime is decidedly junk, but at least he could have done us the favor of being fun in it. I don’t care how smoldering he is, playing a guy who just glowers is deeply boring. (There’s a scene in which he’s tortured with a lit cigar. I was genuinely curious if having his flesh painfully singed would finally elicit some sort of reaction out of Bricke. Answer: Kinda?)
Clearly, Bricke’s stoicism is meant to be offset by Cash’s madman routine. Unfortunately for all of us in the audience, Pitt seems to have studied Jared Leto’s tic-y performance in Suicide Squad and decided, “Oh, that’s nothing.” As a sort of counterbalance to the men’s extremes, Shelby (who’s Cash’s fiancée but still pines for Bricke) mostly walks around in high heels and short dresses, which apparently is the ideal wardrobe when you work as a computer hacker. (It’s always adorable when stupid “high-tech” thrillers like this trot out the hacker character — he or she mostly does a lot of fast typing while squinting at screens.)
These three must work together to pull off this seemingly impossible theft, but not before a series of ridiculous twists, double-crosses and inexplicable dicking around. For a two-and-a-half-hour movie, American Crime isn’t exactly Heat, in which the criminals are given a mythic grandeur through the film’s deliberate pace. Nope, here Megaton just wastes time on subplots and extraneous characters before finally — finally — getting to the actual heist. The movie doesn’t build to the burglary so much as it just eventually happens, almost by default, since there’s nothing else for the characters to do.
There’s room for amoral genre trash if it’s done well — even right now, when the actual world feels like it’s on fire — but to criticize American Crime for insensitivity feels a little opportunistic. Lord knows the movie will make you cringe on several occasions. Heavily militarized police gearing up for all-out warfare isn’t a great look — even if they’re ostensibly the bad guys — and a scene where another character places his foot on Bricke’s neck while he’s on the ground stirred up painful associations. (Like every shot in American Crime, it’s composed in a sensationalized way that’s meant to maximize its rad-ness.)
But getting angry at this film is meaningless — partly because Megaton and his collaborators had no way of knowing how their fiction would play in June 2020. But more importantly, American Crime doesn’t deserve the attention from any accidental topicality. Quite simply, it’s just an inept, generic heist flick cursed with a horrible release date. Let it wither on the vine of your Netflix carousel, never to be heard from again.