Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Last Stand

I had been simultaneously anticipating and dreading the moment when Arnold Schwarzenegger would return to the action movie game if he ever decided to step down from his Governor of California duties. That day certainly came when he threw himself into as many film projects as he possibly could once he resigned from his position. First it was in a supporting role in The Expendables 2, and soon afterwards theaters were digitally projecting his first flick in ten years with Arnie in the lead role – The Last Stand.

Small border town sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his inexperienced police department are the only thing standing in the way of an escaped drug lord who intends to cross into Mexico.
As dumb and farfetched as this movie is at times I will admit that it’s a lot of fun. Sure Arnold looks ancient, he’s surrounded by actors known for comedic roles and the entire situation where the Feds can’t stop this escaped convict, but a lone sheriff and his motley crew of townsfolk can is utterly ridiculous, but it’s all in the name of mindless entertainment and the film doesn’t pretend to be anything other than that. I applaud it for that.

Arnold is still a blast to watch as he mangles the English language while whooping ass left and right. He manages (somehow) to pull off a couple of dramatic scenes as well (better than he did in End of Days, that’s for sure). He also pokes fun at the fact that he’s past his prime which makes for some of the film’s better moments (“How are you sheriff?” – “Old!”).
In an odd move by the filmmakers they decided to cast Johnny Knoxville (Jackass Number Two) and Luis Guzm├ín (Boogie Nights) as Arnold’s sidekicks, two actors I would never associate with an action movie. Surprisingly they both manage to pull it off via their self-deprecating humor and the fact that both characters are written as complete idiots. Their goofiness is evened out by Jaimie Alexander (Thor) and Rodrigo Santoro (300), who both give decent performances in their parts. No one will win any awards here, but for the material it all comes together nicely.

Peter Stormare (Fargo) goes into Ricardo Montalban territory as the villain’s right hand man, Burrell, but it’s a lot of fun watching him devour the scenery. His showdown with Arnold is comically awesome. The lead villain, Cortez, is played by Eduardo Noreiga (The Devil’s Backbone), and while he’s barely in the film he makes for a decent antagonist. Sure I don’t buy anything that takes place during the last few minutes of the flick between him and Arnold, but it’s all in the name of a good time and I let it slide.
The worst of the bunch is, surprisingly, Forest Whitaker. He sleepwalks through his role as FBI Agent Bannister, and his craptastic performance reminds me of his turn in Battlefield Earth. He just looks bored and as if he wishes he were in a different movie. Disappointing.

Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, who is known for his dramatic/horror work overseas (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil, “Memories” in Three… Extremes II), goes for broke and makes The Last Stand as close to a modern day western as you’re going to get. He gets some good performances from his actors, knows how to build suspense (albeit of the cheesy variety), shows off some impressive cinematography and some cool action scenes. I hope he sticks around the US for a while and ushers in a new wave of great Asian filmmakers to step into the shoes of the MIA John Woo.
While I did enjoy this flick a great deal I will say that it’s far from being as awesome as it could have been. Knoxville’s character just so happens to have a massive cache of firearms, cannons and rocket launchers on hand? Arnold falls off a three story building and through a large awning without breaking a single bone? People survive being shot with 50 caliber ammunition? Writer Andrew Knauer goes a little too far with the invincible nature of his protagonists and I have to call bullshit. Sure it’s all in the name of a good time at the movies, but I’m only willing to suspend my disbelief so far. Do these examples (there certainly are more I could have added to the list) make the film a bust in my eyes? Not at all. But like I said, this could have been a lot better if made slightly more realistic. There’s a reason this film bombed at the box office, and this aspect earned it some bad word of mouth.

On the whole I enjoyed The Last Stand. It’s fast, fun and balls to the wall. Am I glad to have The Governator back up on the big screen? Yes and no. Sure it means one of my favorite old school action heroes will continue to entertain me, but unlike Sylvester Stallone I wonder if he will know when the time has come to call it a day and move on. He’s scheduled to participate in new Terminator and Conan movies within the next few years. I hope he can pull it off. If not, I think he should gracefully step aside and officially let Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham accept the mantle of the new breed of action stars.

3.5 out of 5

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