By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Jaime Alexander, Luis Guzman, Peter Stormare, Eduardo Noriega and Johnny Knoxville
Admit it. You missed him. And, perhaps more notably, the action genre missed him. Because in the ten years since Terminator 3, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last starring vehicle, the action genre has taken a little detour. Instead of the slam-bang shoot ’em ups that made Ah-nold a millionaire, action films were more about the ‘realistic’ heroes of Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films and, of course, Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise. Don’t get me wrong, these films are tremendous in their own right. However, through all these years, there was something in me that was missing the action films of old. You know the ones. The ones where Schwarzenegger bowls down an entire army by himself and quips pages of cheesy dialogue. Sure, Sylvester Stallone brought this back to a degree with The Expendables. Yet, seeing Schwarzenegger pal around in those films made something in my craw crave more. Well, I can wait no more. Because, guess what? He is back! Full of violent high-octane action, fast cars (really fast) and, yes, cheesy one liners, The Last Stand announces not only the return of an action star. It also marks the American arrival of Kim Jee-Woon, who combines his own style of wild frantic action with modern-day set pieces for a faster than lightning hour and forty minutes of great, humor infused action and mind-blowing stunts.
From the first time Schwarzenegger appears onscreen, it is readily apparent that a decade of governorship and paternity suits have not been kind to him. However the film smartly does not ignore that fact. In one amusing scene, he busts through a window right in the middle of battle. After one of the patrons asks him how he is doing, Schwarzenegger gets up and responds ‘old.’ It is humor such as this that makes you not help but enjoy its old school plot. Arnold plays Sheriff Owens, a cop relocated to the small Arizona town of Summerton Junction. The police force there is a complete farce, as the most action they get is jailing drunks. All of that is about to change as escaped drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Noriega) heads through their town with the FBI on his trail. And, it is up to Owens & his gang to stop him. Let me say this right now: this plot is pure unadulterated 80s cheese. But nostalgia is not the only thing it has going for it. Exchanges between Owens and his gang (most notably Guzman) are very humorous. As is Stormare, bringing smarmy quips as Cortez’s right hand man. Guzman and Stormare almost steal the show, and it is unmistakable fun seeing and hearing them every single time they are onscreen.
What is also great about The Last Stand is that it takes place in a matter of morning time hours. It helps with the fast pace of the film because character development, as it should in a film such as this, goes right out the window. We do experience everything Owens goes through in this time and again, the script makes sure to call tongue in cheek attention to his dishevelled appearance. Truth be told, Schwarzenegger is a bit rusty here, and some of his line deliveries, if they were by anyone else, would have me shaking my head. He eventually wins me over in exchanges with his crew. Knoxville is fun as the gun loving Lewis and Alexander (Thor) brings the sexiness as naive Sarah Torrance. But it is Guzman’s character of Mike that has the best exchanges with him. All of these characters are cliché, but damn if I did not have fun with all of them.
It’s the second half of the film, as the preparations intensify and then the big attack comes to Sommerton Junction that the film REALLY picks up steam. And by steam, I mean lots and lots of bullets, sometimes from huge guns that fire way too many bullets. What enhances the action at hand & works in Jee-Woon’s favor within The Last Stand’s framework is how he takes the fantasy of all this to such a degree that you can’t help but admire how high it ends up going. It will please hardcore action fans, but unlike The Expendables franchise, it doesn’t really insult your intelligence either. The villains on display in this flick are not pushovers, and it leads to some impressive action and tremendous display of talent from the performers to the cameramen, all the way to the stuntmen. And the final chase through a cornfield, just when you think the film has nothing else to give you, comes back for a surprise set-piece that feels fresh and inventive; we haven’t seen something quite like this where it’s a cat and mouse chase through such a big space of land, but we know it is just a matter of seconds.
Gritty realism is something that action films needed a decade ago. But like most Hollywood trends (and Schwarzenegger himself), it was getting real old real quick. You know the action genre needs a shot in the arm when even the Bond franchise saw fit to get so damn real and depressing that it quite literally turned me off to the genre as a whole. People who grew up with Schwarzenegger vehicles also grew weary, and this is the audience that The Last Stand is going to appeal to most. Sure, Arnold looks a bit weary and the plot is as disjointed as any film in recent memory. But, who cares? If you go to see him carry a gun, quip with other characters and beat up bad guys, then you have come to the right place. Not to mention: where else are you going to see an appearance by his 1987 Predator co-star Sonny Landham?
3.5 out of 5