The Last Stand (2013) / Action-Thriller

MPAA rated: R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language
Length: 107 min.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Jaimie Alexander, Rodrigo Santoro, Peter Stormare, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, Genesis Rodriguez, Sonny Landham, Christiana Leucas, Zach Gilford
Small role: Harry Dean Stanton
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Screenplay: Andrew Knauer
Review published January 26, 2013

The Last Stand 2013 Arnold SchwarzeneggerArnold Schwarzenegger (Around the World in 80 Days, Terminator 3) stars as Ray Owens, a former LAPD cop who survived a nasty drug raid and has decided to put himself out to pasture as the sheriff of a small Arizona border town called Sommerton Junction (perhaps based on real-life AZ border town, Somerton). However, his quiet town is about to become the destination of the possible border crossing of the nefarious Mexican drug cartel head Gabriel Cortez (Noriega, Vantage Point), who has just escaped FBI custody and has taken one of their agents hostage as he races at speeds up to 200mph is a custom-built Corvette ZR1 that no cop car, or even helicopter, can keep pace with.  Federal Agent John Bannister (Whitaker, Repo Men) is out to get Cortez at any cost, and tips off Owens to what's coming his way, and to stay out of the way.  But the SWAT team sent out to hold down the fort is taken out by Cortez's men, leaving nothing standing in the way of Cortez's return to Mexico but Owens and a ragtag group of severely under-experienced deputies who've never seen much real crime before.

The Last Stand's most notable claim to fame is as being now-65-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger's first starring performance since becoming the Governor of California.  As such, there will be an expectation among many of his fans that The Last Stand will be a typical vehicle for Arnie, and those people will likely come away disappointed.  It is an action film first, and while some Schwarzenegger staples are tossed in perfunctorily, it is very obvious from the outset that this is a film that was written for someone other than its world-renown star.  In fact, Arnie's not on the screen a good deal of the time, competing with Forest Whitaker's tenacious FBI commander for screen time and plot focus. As a role, Ray Owens is often an ill fit for the Austrian-born actor (there is a poignant reference to Owens being an immigrant, but that's it), reminiscent to the uneven tone of Schwarzenegger's early action flicks before he became the highest box office draw in the world in the late 1980s.

To a smaller extent, for film buffs, The Last Stand marks the Hollywood debut of South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Good the Bad and the Weird), the acclaimed, stylish director known for some very serious, sometimes brutally violent films.  The Last Stand is, despite its jokey local-yokel characters, a fairly serious movie most of the time.  Characters do get shot and they can die, and often when they are in jeopardy, there is an underlying cruelty to the way the bad guys show no mercy that creates a palpable tension to the situation that is generally not there in a film striving for a semi-comedic approach.  Arnie does get a couple of one-liners in, but they are largely forgettable ("Welcome to Sommerton!" and "I am the sheriff!" being two that seem made just to use for trailers and ads). 

It is this jarring shift in tone, from deadly thriller to jocular, down-home kooky characters, that keeps The Last Stand from achieving a lasting momentum or gripping suspense.  Part of this comes through a generic first-time effort from Andrew Knauer, mixed with rewrites Jeffrey Nachmanoff (Traitor, The Day After Tomorrow) and George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau, The Bourne Ultimatum) to try to inject some humor in a hurry, and to cater a few things to Schwarzenegger's presence.  The characters played by a crackpot Johnny Knoxville (The Ringer, The Dukes of Hazzard) and a loveable oaf in Luis Guzman (Taking of Pelham 123, War) are almost wholly played for laughs, with the former actually taking up second billing on the movie's poster, as well as prominent placement in ads.  It goes from prison break, to (nearly interminable) chase film, to quaint cowpoke comedy, to modern Western -- shifting the tone and motifs based on scenes rather than have an overall vision for the entire film worth sticking to.

The Last Stand isn't so much a return of Arnie to the forefront of movie stars so much as a return of Arnie to the back of the bus (figuratively and literally, if you see the film).  Like all action stars, there comes a point when only the more seasoned moviegoers remember your best works, and with nearly a decade being removed since his last starring effort, nearly a whole new generation of movie fans have only seen Arnie in flicks they consider 'old' or 'things their parents like'. 

Even though the script is generic, Jee-woon does offer up some interesting action nuggets, from the high speed car chase through a corn field (teaching viewers that, indeed, corn can grow in Arizona), and some brutal hand-to-hand combat in the final showdown at the edge of the border.   It doesn't skimp in the big guns, high-caliber bullets, gratuitous explosions and sheer bloodiness department.  While gun-porn enthusiasts and action-lovers will be given enough high-octane eye-candy to give it a pass, The Last Stand will meet with frustration in most others to see this conglomeration of ideas that, contradictorily, expect us to take all of it and none of it seriously at the same time.

Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo