“Stand”ing on shaky ground

last stand

The Last Stand

dir. Kim Jee-Woon

Release Date: Jan 18, 13

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Depending on your point of view about what makes a good Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, The Last Stand could easily be considered anything from an overachievement to a total disaster. If you tend to prefer the rah-rahing bloodbath of Commando, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for genuine quality in the early Terminator/Total Recall mold, The Last Stand doesn’t really get there. And if you didn’t see The Expendables 2, and enter into this film expecting anything other than Schwarzenegger attempting to reclaim his action star throne while making the occasional self-effacing remark about his age and/or increasingly poor command of the English language, you’ll likely walk away disappointed.

One of The Last Stand’s brighter ideas lies in its acknowledgement that Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is not a native of sleepy Sommerton, Arizona. After a mysterious stint as a narcotics agent in Los Angeles, Ray chose to become the sheriff of a town where the local high school football team’s trip to the state finals clears the entire population for the weekend. This proves convenient when the murder of a local farmer leads to the revelation that Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), “the most dangerous cartel boss since Pablo Escobar,” is making a break for the Mexican border after a spectacular Las Vegas transport escape. And of course, only Ray and his posse can stop him. That posse, as you might expect, includes a hot, sassy young officer (Jaimie Alexander), her estranged jailbird ex-boyfriend with a tortured past (Rodrigo Santoro), the restless young deputy (Zach Gilford), the ethnic comic relief (Luis Guzman) and the wacky local gun nut (Johnny Knoxville).

The Last Stand crams a lot more into its runtime, including half-assed double crosses, Ray’s ongoing bickering war with a federal agent (Forrest Whitaker, laughing his way through the proceedings), a whole lot of bloodshed and some of the worst green screen work in recent cinema. It also mostly manages to get a lot out of a game cast and some amusingly excessive direction from Kim Jee-Woon, best known Stateside for more serious fare like I Saw The Devil. However, Jee-Woon also directed the overlooked The Good, The Bad and The Weird, a foreign-language train robbery Western with a demented sense of humor with which The Last Stand shares some DNA. Particularly when the time comes for the titular showdown, Jee-Woon finally lets the film turn into the borderline-parodic campfest it seems desperate to become. It’s actually because of this prevailing sense of farce throughout (often deliberate, sometimes not) that moments like the inevitable grave death of one of Ray’s associates fail to ring true.

When The Last Stand aims for pathos, the film comes to a halt, in no small part because Whitaker and Schwarzenegger in particular fail to bring anything more than the occasional glower in that department. Were this a film more taken with the Crank method of handling action movie excess (embrace the crazy, screw the straight faces), the film would arguably be far more effective. Its best mode is that of a Looney Tunes bit on steroids, and that approach shines through most proudly in the extended battle of wits between Cortez and Ray. Starting off with one of the most hilariously stiff car chases imaginable, and moving on to a winking duel of one-liners, this grand finale finally realizes The Last Stand’s true identity as a self-aware commentary on the aging of Schwarzenegger’s star persona. It’s just too bad the whole film couldn’t take the plunge.