In the opening moments of The Last Heist, B-movie auteur Mike Mendez toys with genre clichés while throwing viewers off balance. A crew of masked robbers hunkers down in a van, waiting, clutching their weapons and spewing cringe-worthy dialogue. As they prepare to move on their mark, a shuttered bank-turned-safe deposit-box repository, a carefully spoken, calm and collected pastor persuades the branch manager and other customers to let him visit the vault first. He has a very special withdrawal to make, you see, so just let the man of God cut in line.
The scene is spliced together in deceptive fashion—even if said man of God can’t conceivably be on the righteous up-and-up, because he’s portrayed by Henry Rollins. Something’s amiss here—again, because Rollins. But is his bespectacled clergy member, Bernard, the inside man, the guy who goes in first to set the heist in motion? Is he there to read the room, take note of the soon-to-be hostages, set booby traps and get the drop in advance?
Nope, he’s just there on his own, to retrieve his prized collection of human eyeballs out of storage.
No spoiler alert is needed for the above setup. Even were one not familiar with the film’s log line—armed thieves encounter a serial killer during their big job, oops!—we know all we need to as soon as we realize the physical proximity of the respective villains is a random coincidence. The Last Heist operates at a minimum of plot, and budget, and running time—all 84 minutes of it—but the Dog Day Afternoon-meets-slasher flick premise is intriguingly cheeky.
Director-editor Mendez knows how to make the most of this stuff. After an auspicious screen debut with 1996’s Killers, he delivered such minor gems as The Gravedancers and Big Ass Spider!, and most recently helmed the Friday the 13th installment of last year’s Tales of Halloween homage anthology. The Last Heist is a serviceable if subpar entry in his filmography, and your enjoyment of his latest is contingent almost entirely upon the ability to forgive shoddy scripting (hello, gaping plot holes!), mediocre acting, fitful pacing, laughable effects and visuals that test the bounds of the word “cheap” under the guise of B-movie fare.
That’s not to say The Last Heist is totally unsalvageable, simply that lowered expectations don’t excuse what could’ve been a lot better. A tense, violent chamber piece that pits Henry Freaking Rollins against your stock cast of bank robbers (and they’re all here, from the trigger-happy broad to the coke-snorting getaway driver) sounds, in a word, awesome. But it lands curiously flat, especially when Rollins isn’t on screen—which is entirely too often. Contrast the unrealized potential here with the recent Green Room—in which neo-Nazi skinheads battled punk rockers in a similarly confined space—and The Last Heist feels anemic, all the more so given the implied urgency of that title.
To their credit, Mendez and co. don’t take themselves too seriously. Nothing here should or remotely can be, even Rollins himself. Charismatic as ever, the hardcore music icon/spoken-word artist has settled into a welcome niche as a character actor of imposing physicality and absolute immoral conviction. His “Windows Killer” (not an Apple vs. PC construct, BTW) is terrifying, all poise and manners as he approaches his next victim, and it’s great fun to watch him screw with the other baddies. The slightest of backstories introduces a sibling conflict amid Gulf War PTSD, the recession and institutional corruption, but none gets more than a brief mention in between the action.
Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, The Last Heist manages several moments of genuine suspense and horror, largely thanks to Rollins, who can deliver a fateful line like nobody’s business. There’s something to be said for a lean, mean B-picture that toys with convention on its own terms. But were it not for Hank, The Last Heist would be just another failed job.
Director: Mike Mendez
Writer: Guy Stevenson
Starring: Henry Rollins, Torrance Coombs, Victoria Pratt
Release Date: June 17, 2016 in theaters and on VOD
Amanda Schurr is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and a culture writer in Portland, Ore. You can follow her on Twitter.