The Last Warrior, also released as The Last Patrol (and frankly that title is better for it, but I’m going with the U.S. title anyway) was released direct-to-video in 2000. When I started watching it, I wasn’t aware it was a direct-to-video release (though the full-frame format quickly made that apparent), and it’s possible I would have avoided it if I had. I enjoy watching Dolph Lundgren in action, but I have to say that the majority of his filmography consists of bad films, and seeing something go direct-to-video is seldom a good sign. This film is not an exception to either rule.
According to IMDb’s trivia page, Lundgren and director Sheldon Lettich agreed to do the film only if they could re-write the script… and then the co-producers, who wrote it, reneged on that decision. It shows. Lundgren mostly tries to put in a good performance, and he’s certainly the highlight of the show, but there are times when you can tell that he’s having a hard time taking the material seriously. And when Dolph Lundgren thinks your film is too stupid to take seriously, you’ve got problems.
He has a 3rd-dan black belt in karate and a Master’s degree in chemical engineering. This film dishonors both.
It’s not hard to see where the writers went wrong, and where a re-write could have turned this into a decent little film. The film is set in the near future, after a 9.5-magnitude earthquake causes part of California to separate from the mainland. The survivors are cut off, and there seems to be no communication with the outside world — at one point, Lundgren’s character speculates that the entire axis of the Earth has shifted, causing global devastation. Lundgren is playing Army Captain Nick Preston, in charge of a small rag-tag camp of survivors who have been fortunate enough to find a location with water. With Air Force Captain Sarah McBride (Sherri Alexander) and Marine Lucky Simcoe (Joe Michael Burke) he periodically patrols the desert to find supplies and other survivors. As premises go, it’s not exactly a novel one, but it’s a good old standby and decent films can and have been made out of it.
Other camp survivors include a generic boring couple who exist solely for being sacrificial lambs; Lucky’s airhead wife Candy (Rebecca Cross); Pope (Terry Big Charles), a teenaged Indian; and Cooky (Ze’ev Revach), the camp’s inept cook who also claims to be an Indian. One of the few points of praise I can give the film is its treatment of Indians. As is so often the case, Pope’s just “an Indian” whose tribe is never mentioned, and he carries a bow (with Preston’s narration mentioning the usefulness of ancient traditions in the post-apocalypse); the usual stereotypes aren’t exactly absent. But at the same time, Pope is depicted as just an ordinary teenager: impatient, easily excited, and looking for approval from the group’s leaders. While nobody in this film really gets much character depth, Pope is one of the more believable ones. At the same time, Cooky claims to be an Indian, but the film makes no bones about the fact that he isn’t. Fake Indians are a real phenomenon, and Hollywood is responsible for more than its fair share of them, so it’s kind of gratifying to see a film that acknowledges this happens. That Cooky is still a sympathetic character even though nobody in the camp buys into his claim is also one of the film’s few points of character depth (it helps that he’s not doing it out of any sense of opportunism; the worst that could be said about him is that he’s a comedian who is trying to figure out what he’s supposed to be in the new world and has confused an ethnicity with a function.) Plus, their fake Indian is played by a non-Indian, and their real Indian is played by a real Indian. So in that one respect, this lousy film manages to outshine a lot of Hollywood films.
Unfortunately, praiseworthy moments in the writing are few and far between. They throw in every post-apocalyptic cliche they can think of, whether or not it makes sense from their basic premise. Communications are down from magnetic interference (hand-waved with the “axis shift” theory, but still… it’s hard to believe nobody from the mainland could take helicopter out to see if the island had survivors). There’s some sort of biological mutation going around that seems to have no plot purpose beyond giving things a bit of a Mad Max aesthetic. The usual standards are in play for the characters as well. McBride and Preston are constantly jockeying for position against each other, and have a degree of belligerent sexual tension. There’s a love triangle between Lucky, his wife, and a newcomer named Jasper (Ishai Golan) that leads to Candy’s endangerment. Preston has partial amnesia, unable to remember much of anything before the earthquake. And, just to ensure that there’s a bad guy, a nearby prison has remained mostly intact, only the inmates are now in control and led by Jesus Carrera, your standard prophet-psycho (played by Juliano Mer-Khamis). He alternates between dramatic whispers and dramatic shouts, but little of what he says is actually dramatic.
The basic plot and characters could have been salvaged. There’s enough to work with here that I think a decent film could have resulted from a re-write. A little more depth to the characters would have gone a long way, and the involvement of the prisoners just came across as contrived rather than a naturally-evolving conflict. Then there are the logical errors in the plot… I don’t expect a great deal of scientific accuracy from a film like this, but a little bit would help. Don’t throw a mutating disease into an earthquake plot just for the hell of it. And I do expect that when you have a scene around developing film, that you know something about developing film. Bad enough that their star, as noted above, has a Master’s in chemical engineering, but this isn’t even a complex chemistry error they make here. It’s not an error you’d need to be a photographer to avoid either. It’s a real simple, basic, obvious error. One that the writers shouldn’t have made, and one that the characters shouldn’t have made. Whether it works or not isn’t actually shown — this film is rife with scenes that go nowhere — but there’s no chance anybody halfway competent would have done this. Take a look and see if you can spot what I’m talking about.
If you’re having trouble, consider the word “darkroom”.
It’s hardly the most important flaw in the film, but it may be the one that’s easiest to point to as an example of easy it would have been to make improvements. The overall sense I got from watching the film was that the writers (Stephen Brackley and Pamela K. Long, whose other writing credits include soap operas and nothing else of note) not only didn’t know how to write developed characters, interesting scenes, coherent plots, and accurate details, but simply didn’t care. And the end result of this apathetic writing is a mess of a movie that could have been worthwhile if someone competent had been allowed to take the reins.