There’s been a lot of fanfare over The Last Stand being Arnold Schwarzenegger’s big comeback. After all, it is his first starring role in a decade. But in the kinetic, razor cut age of Bourne, CGI superheroes and a revitalized 007, is there still room for the old-school meathead action hero? Based on the film’s toxic box office weekend numbers, it’s unlikely! But if the commercial failure of The Last Stand marks the last action hero’s last hurrah, at least he’ll have gone out guns blazing, in style.
The set-up is simple. Arnold plays Ray Owens, a former DEA agent who now works as sheriff in Sommerton Junction, a microscopic border-hugging Texas town so devoid of crime that the cops resort to spending their days target practicing at the ranch of the local gun nut (Jonny Knoxville). Owens’ in-experienced team include Mike (Luis Guzman), the loud-mouthed comedic one, Sarah (Jaimie Alexander), the feisty head-strong one, and Jerry (Zach Gilford), the air-headed ambitious one.
When inept FBI agent John Bannister (Forest Whittaker) calls Owens one night warning him that a dangerous drug dealer named Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has made a daring prison break and plans to cross the U.S. border via Sommerton Junction using an ultra fast, jazzed up Porche, it’s up to Owens and team (plus Knoxville and a local bad boy played by Rodrigo Santoro) to stop Cortez and his machine gun-wielding cronies, led by Peter Stormare. And that’s the gist of it!
Even if it’s incredibly formulaic, chock full of characters you’ve seen a hundred times before, and borrows heavily from High Noon – The Last Stand is also surprisingly self-aware, cleverer than it has any right to be, and damn it, unabashedly fun! Under any circumstance, I’d label this a surprise but The Last Stand marks the American directorial debut of Kim Jee-woon – the Korean mastermind behind The Good, the Bad, and the Weird and I Saw the Devil.
Jee-woon is a filmmaker gifted at staging action sequences that brim with tension and simultaneously, unexpected bursts of humor, and this movie is brimmed with them – from the terrific prison break set piece and a suspenseful slow car chase in a corn field to a thrilling climactic fight on a bridge. While The Last Stand doesn’t hold a candle to his native-language films, it’s refreshing to see a foreign filmmaker’s voice not lobotomized by the Hollywood studio system. It’s also gratifying that he’s aided by a script that embraces its silliness and, of course, by a star who’s smart enough to acknowledge that he is indeed – old. Speaking of the old man… if there was any doubt in his ability to kick ass, think again. He may be older, much older but he’s still the charismatic screen dynamo we used to know. If anything, The Last Stand proves that Arnold still can throw a punch and hold strong to his crown as the king of the one-liner. Alas, even though the last 10 years in politics gave him plenty of acting experience, he remains as robotic as ever. I guess some things never change.
THE LAST STAND
Directed by: Kim Jee-woon
Written by: Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, George Nolfi
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whittaker, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman
Rated: R (For strong bloody violence throughout and language)