Schwarzeneggerís Back in Giddily Cartoonish Last Stand
Not counting his glorified cameo in The Expendables and his much longer one in The Expendables 2, seeing he was spending time as the governor of California it makes sense that we havenít seen a lot of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screen of late. His last starring role was back in 2003ís Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and before that were a series of subpar actioners including Collateral Damage, The 6th Day and End of Days. As the new millennium dawned it was becoming increasingly clear that the former action kingpin was coming to the end of his run, so moving from Hollywood superstar into a political career in some ways made a modicum of sense.
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand © Lionsgate
But now the 65-year-old former (and maybe future, if you believe the buzz) barbarian named Conan is attempting to make the transition back from politics into the world of cinematic action heroics, and heís enlisted Korean wunderkind Kim Jee-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird, I Saw the Devil) to help him do it. The pairís robust, cartoonish thriller The Last Stand certainly doesnít break any new ground, and it definitely doesnít do a single thing thatís unexpected, but that doesnít make it any less a rollicking good time. Say what you will about Schwarzenegger but the man does know how to make an entertaining action movie when he sets his mind to it, and for all its faults his teaming up with Jee-woon has produced a very entertaining one indeed.
The plot is straight out of a black a white Hollywood Western. Sommerton Junction Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is informed by FBI Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) that escaped Mexican cartel warlord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) might be speeding towards his quiet burg in a quest to escape across the border. This doesnít come as a surprise to the veteran, especially so thanks to the presence of lethal badass Burrell (Peter Stormare) attempting to shoot up his officers as if they were clay targets at a deserted gun range.
Ray could stand down. He could allow Cortez to speed through this Arizona town and escape back into Mexico. But Ray is a man of honor, and no one waltzes by on his watch especially when theyíve already had their bloodthirsty minions inflect deadly force upon those heís sworn to serve and protect. Outnumbered and outgunned, this sheriff and his small band of misfit deputies wonít go down with a fight, the dusty streets of Sommerton Junction about to become a battleground and no one who happens to witness the melee will ever forget what they see.
The Last Stand is loud. It is obnoxious. It is more often than not hilariously nonsensical. By and large it is a comic book come to life, the outlandish theatrics behind Cortezís escape from FBI custody in Las Vegas and his subsequent foray onto forgotten American highways driving a souped-up high-speed sports car beyond silly. But the movie also knows exactly what it is, who it is made for and what it needs to do, more often than not delivering the hard-hitting goods and doing so in a fashion that gets the pulse racing. Itís High Noon meets Extreme Prejudice meets Assault on Precinct 13 meets any one of a dozen John Woo Hong Kong thrillers, all of it mashed together through Jee-woonís eccentrically whimsical sensibilities thus creating a bloody smorgasbord unique in and of itself.
More often than not this is a great thing, the blood-drenched finale involving Ray and his merry band taking on Burrell and his cutthroat cohorts a serious hoot in all the ways that matter. The action is relentless, has a visceral kick, Jee-woon and Schwarzenegger playing things a little tongue in cheek yet somehow maintaining a matter-of-fact seriousness at the same time. No matter how odd things gets, no matter where the joke is placed, when the guns get drawn and fists start flying the visceral impact of what is happening never bogs down, allowing the movie to exhilarate unlike any other of the actorís efforts in what feels like a good two decades, maybe longer.
Coming in at about 107 minutes the movie is too long, that goes without saying. On top of that, all of the stuff revolving around Bannister, the FBI and their worry over one of their own getting kidnapped by Cortez (a bored looking Genesis Rodriguez) goes nowhere, things stalling out whenever any of these nondescript subplots come to the forefront. Itís also no secret as to where all of this is heading, the climactic moments as preordained as they come.
But for my money The Last Stand was a hoot and half, and had I paid the price of a matinee tickets itís doubtful Iíd even come close to being disappointed. Schwarzenegger, embracing both his age and his iconic history, doesnít so much reinvent his cinematic wheel as he does get in spinning once more in the right direction, this cartoonish modern day B-grade Western a giddy throwback I enthusiastically enjoyed far more than I should probably admit.
Film Rating: ÍÍ1/2 (out of 4)