The dynamics of shooting a film can change a bad project to a good one and vice-versa. It can even elevate a weak premise or an overdone one and make them feel compelling and fresh. In action movies, this is especially important. There needs to be flow and constant pacing to keep that flow. Brian Goodman’s Last Seen Alive fails to generate this and instead takes an overdone thriller premise and drags it further through the mud.
Essentially Goodman’s film is Taken, but instead of Liam Neeson with a secret, very particular set of skills, we get Gerard Butler as an “everyman” property developer. His name is Will, and we meet him as he and his wife Lisa (Jaimie Alexander) are going through a divorce. He’s dropping her off at her parent’s house so they can get some space from each other, but when he stops for gas, she gets kidnapped. What follows is one man’s delirious search for the woman he loves, even if she might not love him back.
As expected, many threads pop up to lead us on a trail to find Lisa: The gas attendant seems to be hiding something, Lisa once had an affair, and everyone quietly suspects Will because of the pending split. All except for Lisa’s parents, who loudly suspect Will and are just all-round horrible people who could never actually exist. These threads get cut down as new ones form, and along the way, we meet the man with the best performance in the film, a police chief played by Russell Hornsby.
The chief is the only one who seems to feel the weight of the plot; he suspects everyone and everything, allowing him to get to the bottom of the mystery. Unlike Will, who, for reasons known only to him, decides to strike off on his own to find his wife, leading him down a bloody and vengeful path. For just an average guy who is also a very wealthy property developer, Will is exceptionally brave and tough. He fights tooth and nail for his wife, eventually leading him to a gang of drug dealers.
The sequence that follows is where the film ultimately falls apart because of how it’s shot. Up to this point, everything is competent enough, if predictable. But once Will gets to the meth lab, the film grinds to a complete halt to fill its runtime. All that happens is we see Butler sneak around for what feels like an hour as he barely escapes being caught. All the while, we have no idea if Lisa is there, and really, I began not to care. Worst of all, Goodman shot none of it in long takes — it’s clunky cut after clunky cut as you watch the film fall apart. Had there been some ingenuity or any sense of flair, the sequence could have captivated, instead, it feels like the camera is blinking for you; each cut achieves that little.
Butler does what he does best, but he’s working with so little that this is some of his least memorable work of all time. Alexander too gets nothing to work with as the damsel in distress, leaving Hornsby, whose best scene could’ve wound up on the cutting room floor. Unfortunately, it becomes almost parody-like, as the ending promotes this crazed fantasy that all you have to do to get someone to love you again is save her from a meth lab, and I don’t think anyone involved would be happy it came out the way it did.
Last Seen Alive is as generic as it gets and should serve as a warning to anyone looking to cash in without effort with one of cinema’s most overdone plots.
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