A film review by Craig J. Koban January 21, 2013

THE LAST STAND jjj
 

2013, R, 107 mins.

Ray Owens: Arnold Schwarzenegger / Bannister: Forest Whitaker / Cortez: Eduardo Noriega / Mike: Luis Guzman / Burrell: Peter Stormare / Lewis: Johnny Knoxville

Directed by Jee-woon Kim / Written by Andrew Knauer and Jeffrey Nachmanoff

Seriously, it’s almost unfathomable to consider that Arnold Schwarzenegger has not headlined an action film in over ten years (his last one was 2003’s TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES).  Yeah…sure…he has appeared in movies since then – like a borderline awful and inexplicable cameo in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS and two brief, but mostly satisfying, cameos in the last two EXPENDABLES pictures.  Yet, THE LAST STAND represents Au-nald’s true solo return to his macho and testosterone-infused action roots.   

Yet, the former Governator that's now a returning action star ain’t the dominating physical cinematic presence of old.  He’s a ripe 66-years-old and his physique hardly is indicative of the massively chiseled facede he proudly exhibited during his glory days of the mid-80’s through early 90’s.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter, because THE LAST STAND acknowledges his advancing years with an all-knowing and self-deprecating wink without turning the notion of taking a near geriatric man and re-molding him back into a lethal killing machine into a farcical gag.  Schwarzenegger is a shrewder performer than many give him credit for, even if his thespian skills are about where they were a decade ago.  Yet, like John Wayne before him, Schwarzenegger gets by on movie star magnetism.  "The Duke" knew what his most ardent fans demanded out of him, as does Schwarzenegger, and he wholeheartedly delivers just that in THE LAST STAND. 

Despite his obvious and world famous Austrian accent (which is one of his inherent charms), Schwarzenegger plays a small town sheriff named Ray Owens, which is about as peculiar and unrealistic of a premise as just about any in all of his flicks (the script offers up some clunky expositional dialogue explaining – thank goodness – that he was once a former L.A. narcotics cop that's now a semi-retired sheriff).  Granted, his name alone - Ray Owens - never hints at his heritage, but never mind.  Ray resides and protects over the sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction where the only thing that's newsworthy is when the milk is not delivered on time to the local eatery.  Nonetheless, Ray seems to like his Norman Rockwellian and bucolic surroundings.   

 

 

Yet, trouble inevitably finds Ray.  A rather vile and intrepid Mexican drug lord named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has just escaped Federal custody in Las Vegas and now, with a hostage in hand, takes his muscled-up Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 – that can easily do more than 200mph – on the road and towards Sommerton, where he and his cohorts hope to secretly and easily race through and towards the U.S./Mexican border.  With the help of his number two man, Burrell (Peter Stormare, forever cursed to play movie baddies, only this time awkwardly playing a character whose accent reveals him to be either German, Spanish, or Texan…or a combination of the three), Cortez believes that he’s relatively home free after making it through numerous FBI roadblocks and pursuers (headed up by a very determined agent, played by Forrest Whitaker).   However, when Sheriff Owens gets wind of all of this – and a few members of his beloved town get murdered by some of Cortez’s cronies – it’s the straw that broke the Austrian/small American town sheriff’s back.   

Okay, let’s get the film’s laughable laundry list of improbabilities out of the way first and foremost.  The whole concept of Schwarzenegger playing a small town sheriff aside, Cortez’s plan alone warrants an eye-rolling fit of incredulity: His men build a bridge – no, really! – that traverses over a small, but oh-so-convenient gulf between the two borders in broad daylight without the FBI or any other state officials being aware of its existence.  Also – and speaking of convenient - consider the character played by Johnny Knoxville, the town’s local resident screw-up and nutjob that runs a bi-weekly museum that houses old weapons that you just know will find their way into the desperate heroes' hands later on.  Also, the notion of a tough as nails, but older than dirt, sheriff and a few modestly armed deputies defending their town from the limitless, military-grade firepower of Cortez’s men seems idiotically unrealistic at its core.  Oh, but wait, there's a semi-disgraced war veteran being held up in the sheriff's jail!  Hmmmm...I wonder if he'll prove to be useful to Ray's needs?

Yet, THE LAST STAND makes up for its more head-scratching lapses in logic and narrative foibles – the first act takes an awfully long time to get into the thick of things - by unapologetically delivering in a final climatic battle that’s an audience-placating spectacle of artery-spewing and bone crunching carnage.  The film’s an interesting hodgepodge – a contemporary Western (ala RIO BRAVO and HIGH NOON) that morphs with car chase exploitation flicks (ala VANISHING POINT) that stars an Austrian, several Spanish people, an African American, and is directed by a South Korean, Jee-woon Kim, making his American debut.   Kim has a rather inventive eye when it comes to the mayhem, as is the case with its multiple highway car chase sequences, not to mention a highly clever and unique sequence that involves both hero and villain in muscle cars careening through a local cornfield.  Then there’s a final encounter on the aforementioned bridge that not-so-subtly, but enjoyably, echoes Western film standoff motifs. 

And, yup, at the center of it all is the Schwarzenegger himself, who still makes mowing down countless adversaries with a school bus mounted mini-gatling gun as infectiously entertaining as ever, but he also gives his loyal audience a sense that he acknowledges that’s he’s old and in rougher-than-normal shape.  This Arnold is not an unstoppable one-man wrecking crew that easily dispatches his prey; he’s a bit more raspy and breathless after every encounter and takes more time getting up.  Yet, the quintessential Schwarzeneggerian one-lines are unleashed aplenty here, my favorites being – when facing Cortez – “You give us immigrants a bad name” or “Thanks for fucking up my day off.”  Nice. 

THE LAST STAND is as formulaic of an action film as they come.  It’s predictable, hits perfunctory story beats with the subtlety of a double-barrel gunshot blast, and offers up stilted and stereotypical small-town Americana gags like they're going out of style.  Yet, it’s all-knowingly and lovingly a hyper loud, hyper violent, and hyper dumb lowbrow auctioneer that that’s great straightforward fun while being agreeably disposable.  We get death-defying stunts, car chases, shoot-outs, fisticuffs, despicable villains, fearless heroes, and, of course, the visage of the still-formidable - albeit more grizzled, semi-balding, and slow moving - Schwarzenegger crushing through bad guys’ bones while his very own creak and crack.  THE LAST STAND is not truly indicative of the man that embodied THE TERMINATOR, CONAN, or COMMANDO of old…but the essence of Au-nald of yesteryear is most definitely…back.

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