‘The Last Victim’ Review: Ali Larter Leads a Derivative Neo-Noir

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While staring glassy-eyed at interminably long stretches of “The Last Victim,” I was reminded of a ‘60s variety show sketch I viewed during my adolescence. The premise of the skit: Producers of some returning fall shows were told at the last minute that their series had been expanded from 30 to 60 minutes, and they had to stretch scripts that had already been written. So everything — walking down hallways, rifling through files, preparing coffee, everything — was done very, very slowly. The sketch, as I recall, was amusing. “The Last Victim” is not. At least, not intentionally.

The latest in a seemingly endless line of neo-noir thrillers with a neo-western gloss, “The Last Victim” plays like the work of people who watched “Blood Simple” and “No Country for Old Men” several times, slapped themselves on the forehead and said, “Hey! We can do that!” Not so, based on the evidence presented here. Instead, director Naveen A. Chathapuram and scripter Ashley James Louis, working from a story by Chathapuram and Doc Justin, have cobbled together a derivative and numbingly pretentious piece of work distinguished only by the relative novelty of a female lead (well played by Ali Larter) who’s as resourceful, resilient and, when push repeatedly comes to shove, purposefully brutal as guys usually are in movies like this.

From the start, during an extended late-night conversation between a drawlingly loquacious killer and his skittish intended victim in an isolated roadside barbecue café, the filmmakers flaunt their influences like prideful banners of movie geekdom. (Evidently, “Pulp Fiction” also loomed large on their viewing list.) By the time the shooting stops, there are quite a few inconvenient corpses to dispose of, forcing Jake (Ralph Ineson), the aforementioned verbose bad guy, to improvise with two confederates by burying the dead, and torching an incriminating vehicle, in a remote corner of a New Mexico nature reserve where they’re sure they won’t be noticed. As if.

Unfortunately for all parties concerned, anthropology professor Susan Orden (Larter) and her husband Richard (Tahmoh Penikett) opt to take a detour during their long-distance drive to her new appointment in California so they can visit said picturesque nature reserve. It’s not Susan’s decision: She’s so tightly focused that she seldom veers from anything not on her daily agenda. (This is a character who maintains a written to-do list that begins with waking up.) But even she eventually admits she’s glad they stopped to view the scenery — until, that is, Richard is shot in the head by Jake and his minions, forcing her to flee.

Back at the barbecue joint, Sheriff Herman Hickey (Ron Perlman), a gruff longtime lawman with a sardonic sense of humanity, is investigating signs that a bloody slaughter recently occurred on the premises. (A major piece of evidence: A dismembered human thumb.) Accompanied by a younger deputy, Mindy Gaboon (Camille Marie Legg), who gives as good as she gets during their dryly wisecracking exchange, Hickey pops up periodically as the film slowly progresses, providing some welcome moments of comic relief right up until a plot twist as disruptive as it is nonsensical.

For the most part, “The Last Victim” is a survival drama, as Susan struggles to remain several steps ahead of her pursuers in the wild as the days drag on. (A few shots of the scenery, beautifully lensed by DP Lukasz Pruchnik, suggest that seasons change once or twice during her ordeal.) The suspense, however, is dissipated by languid pacing, repetitive shots of figures in the landscape and heavily pregnant pauses. It doesn’t help at all that the movie is overlaid with portentous, borderline hilarious narration by Jake about fate, morality, mortality, blah, blah, blah. Where is Tommy Lee Jones when you really need him?

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Originally published at variety.com

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