The Last Stand: Film Review
Schwarzenegger is back in a paint-by-numbers Western from Korean director Kim Jee-woon.
The Governator is reduced to a border-town sheriff but still brandishes some big guns in The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzenegger's first starring vehicle in 10 years. The title is already a misnomer: The 65-year-old action icon has completed two additional films and has two or three more in the pipeline as he attempts to engineer a viable comeback after his detour through Sacramento. Preoccupied with the the caliber and firepower of its arsenal of artillery to an almost weirdly obsessive degree, this often jokey and sometimes abstract shoot-'em-up also, under present circumstances, makes conspicuously tasteless use of a school bus in one of its most violent scenes. At one point in what is not the worst but is very far from the best film the star has made in his career, customers clear out of a diner after the lawman enters it and a waitress quips, “You sure are bad for business.” Lionsgate can only hope that the same will not be said about their star after such a long layoff. It seems most likely that this formulaic concoction will connect with a decent number of longtime fans curious to see if their man can still deliver the goods, but with better results overseas than domestically.
There are moments when Schwarzenegger's Sheriff Ray Owens, still in strong shape but undeniably easing into the late afternoon of his life, resembles characters Clint Eastwood played back in the 1990s, physically capable guys who can still rise to the occasion even if they have slowed a step and will feel the bangs and bruises longer after the action's over. This is a direction the still-imposing former body builder could plausibly pursue for a few more years, but the extent of his big-screen return will depend in large measure upon whether or not his name still means much to younger audiences.
It's pretty certain he won't draw many newcomers to the cause on the basis of this contrivance, which is built around a car chase that mostly involves only one car, a Corvette ZR1 with more than 1000 horsepower and capable of speeds over 200 miles per hour. South Korean genre director Kim Jee-woon, who established his wild action credentials with the outlandish Korean Western The Good, the Bad, the Weird in 2008, launches his American debut in humorous fashion, but things quickly become serious when, in related incidents, malevolent baddie Burrell (Peter Stormare) guns down an old farmer (an unbilled Harry Dean Stanton) atop his tractor, and the biggest and baddest Mexican cartel leader, Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), escapes from an FBI caravan led by agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker).
Getting behind the wheel of the 'vette with a female FBI hostage (Genesis Rodriguez) in tow, Cortez zooms across the desert at night, busting blockades and going so fast that he's gone before radar guns can track him, on his way to a secret border crossing near Sheriff Owens' town, sleepy Summerton Junction, Ariz. Learning Cortez is heading his way, Owens enlarges his motley crew, initially consisting of the enthusiastic Figgie (Luis Guzman), the level-headed Sarah (Jaimie Alexander) and the inept Jerry (Zach Gilford), by reluctantly recruiting jailbird Frank (Rodrigo Santoro) and local nut job Lewis (Johnny Knoxville), who scampers around in a medieval helmet that makes him look like a refugee from Monty Python and who owns a 1939 Vickers repeating gun that's called the “Nazi Killer” for a good reason.
In a prolonged gun battle, these down-home characters dispatch Burrell's goons, but not before a big yellow school bus (empty of students, fortunately) becomes the focal point of much of the most intense shooting, which can't help but bring to mind thoughts of the recent tragedy in Connecticut. As Agent Bannister's crew lags far behind their escaped prey, all Owens has to do is wait and the arrogant handsome devil will come to him.
Kim's visual approach conveys no tension, just straight action with an assortment of shots that don't always cut together with natural grace or expressiveness but do sometimes grab the eye thanks to an inclination to move from the concrete to the abstract. Nowhere is this more true than in a climactic car chase that's set, of all places, in a dried-up cornfield, where the drivers' respective cars plow through stalks that make sweeping patterns, with their denseness preventing the adversaries from seeing one another. It's a weird concept with no attachment to realism whatsoever and passably memorable just for that, even if it merely serves as a lead-in to a classic Western showdown on a bridge above the border.
Looking leaner and rather more drawn than before, Schwarzenegger still conveys the old self-confident, humorous I-dare-you attitude toward his adversaries. He remains sufficiently powerful-looking to convincingly prevail in combat, but comedy might prove the most profitable direction for him to pursue in a general way in the coming years, as his kidding, sometimes taunting nature provides a good means for him to make light of his various reputations.
Shot in New Mexico, the production, unlike the star, has something less than a full-bodied look and lacks any kind of real distinction. It sort of does the job, but just barely.
Opens: Jan. 18 (Lionsgate)
Production: Lionsgate, di Bonaventura Productions
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzman, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Genesis Rodriguez, Daniel Henney, John Patrick Amedori
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Screenwriter: Andrew Knauer
Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Executive producers: Guy Riedel, Miky Lee, Edward Fee, Michael Paseronek, John Sacchi
Director of photography: Ji Yong Kim
Production designer: Franco Carbone
Costume designer: Michele Michel
Editor: Steven Kemper
Rated R, 108 minutes