“The Last Stand”
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been off of the big screen for too long. I’m not counting his 10-minute appearances in the “Expendables” movies. I’m talking about lead roles, in which his last one was “Terminator 3” way back in 2003 before he became the governor of California. That is 10 years too many to wait for fans of Arnold’s unique screen presence. Well now the great Austrian is back in the new action film, “The Last Stand,” and while this comeback is not up to the man’s classics, it is an enjoyable romp for the time it lasts.
When a notorious criminal escapes from the F.B.I. and makes his way towards the Mexican border, the town of Sommerton is all that stands between him and the border. With only a few deputies and willful citizens to help out, Sheriff Ray Owens will have to hold out on his own without federal help if he is to stop this man from escaping justice.
While “The Last Stand” is most certainly Arnold’s show, the trailers have downplayed Forest Whitaker’s presence, despite him taking up a large portion of the first half of the plot. This section occasionally cuts to Arnold and the townsfolk of Sommerton to build them up, but Whitaker’s F.B.I. agent Bannister has to deal with the criminal Cortez for a while first. It is a fine setup with some entertaining action and creative escapes orchestrated by Cortez’s gang, however once Cortez rides off towards Sommerton, Bannister suddenly becomes a tertiary character with little to do. Even though Schwarzenegger is the real reason to see the movie, it felt slightly disingenuous to focus on another character for a time and then almost completely drop him until the very end.
Once the attention shifts more to Owens, the movie does get a greater jolt of life, both in the action sequences and in a newfound dose of humor. Arnold is not above a few jabs at his old age and less-than-Mr. Olympia physique, and there is a darkly comic streak that comes through in the action. When a hot director talent from Asia (i.e. John Woo) comes to Hollywood, the fear is that their wild style would be toned down to be generic and safe; not so for Jee-woon Kim. Although “The Last Stand” is nowhere near as ballsy as his “I Saw the Devil” or as loopy as “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” there is certainly evidence of Kim’s high-energy style that elevates it from the glut of throwaway action trash. His skill with orchestrating inventive and fluid action helps this out, and the flashes of lunacy he injects liven things up, notably when Johnny Knoxville’s gun nut uses a flare gun on one poor henchman. There is nothing in here that matches Schwarzenegger’s delirious rampage in “Commando,” but Arnold gets plenty of times to show he has still “got it,” even in a mano-a-mano fight with Cortez at the end.
It is a shame though that Cortez is a rather flat villain, partly due to Eduardo Noriega’s one-note sneering, mostly due to him being confined in his super-charged car 90 percent of the time. He is not given much to do, and does not stand out in the time given. Making up for this is Peter Storemare as his right-hand man. Storemare, who you may recognize from his other fun villain roles in “Fargo,” “Constantine” and “Bad Boys II,” brings personality and presence to what would otherwise be a faceless character. I almost wish he had played the main villain instead.
These setbacks hold back “The Last Stand” from being a totally triumphant return to the glory days of Schwarzenegger’s career (and based on the piss-poor box office returns, it looks like this is his real life last stand), but it is diverting and enjoyable enough to check out if you’re either an Arnold or action fan. The violence is unabashedly bloody and fun and the humor clicks more often than not. Also, it is probably better than Stallone’s upcoming non-Rocky/Rambo solo action movie “Bullet to the Head.”