STARRING Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, John Patrick Amedori, Genesis Rodriguez DIRECTED BY Jee-Woon Kim SCREENPLAY Andrew Knauer, George Nolfi, Jeffrey Nachmanoff MPAA RATING Rated R RUNNING TIME 107 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Lionsgate
"The Last Stand" a Decent Return for Arnold
If you're looking for a film that makes sense, there are far better options this weekend than Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to film and South Korean filmmaker Jee-Woon Kim's first English language effort, The Last Stand. Your ability to enjoy the film may very well depend upon your ability to suspend belief in favor of low-grade, action-packed and humor-tinged violence without an ounce of logic to be found anywhere.
But, seriously. Who goes to an Arnold Schwarzenegger film for thought-provoking cinema?
After nearly 10 years away from leading roles, Schwarzenegger is back in a film that is just a touch slower with its action and its wit but should be enough to please longtime fans and anyone simply looking for an alternative to the January doldrums. In the film, Schwarzenegger plays Sheriff Ray Owens, a former Los Angeles detective who essentially retired to the small border community of Sommerton Junction following a raid gone bad that took the lives of several fellow officers. Life in Sommerton is fairly uneventful, at least until Mexican drug cartel leader Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) escapes from F.B.I. custody while being transported to federal death row. With Cortez on his way to the Mexican border with a hostage (Genesis Rodriguez), suddenly the only thing that stands between Cortez and freedom is Sheriff Owens and his rather motley crew of semi-official deputies including Mike Figuerola (Luis Guzman), Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), Sarah Torrance (Jaimie Alexander) and a couple others who are basically cardboard cut-out characters.
While The Last Stand has plenty of moments where Schwarzenegger is assigned the role of playing stereotypical Schwarzenegger, especially when the film's trio of writers is trying but failing to work together to come up with the semi-iconic actor's next popular catch phrase, for the most part The Last Stand is a brilliant move for Schwarzenegger because it adopts for him a sort of John Wayne-style persona with the film bearing more than a passing resemblance to High Noon and being one of the more successful and entertaining films to take that approach. The film starts off rather slowly, alternating between scenes of Cortez basically going whup-ass on F.B.I. Agent John Bannister's (Forest Whitaker) crew and Sheriff Ray's predictably humorous and light-hearted life in a small town while surrounded by all the usual stock characters ranging from the deputy who longs for more action to the pompous mayor to the local gun nut and the beautiful girl in the coffee shop.
They're all here.
I was tempted when I first started pondering this review to just sit here and cite all the different aspects of the story that don't make a lick of sense, but then it occurred to me that to do so would be missing the point of an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. There's something about the "character" of Arnold Schwarzenegger that remains untainted over time, something that not even cheating on your Kennedy clan wife could disparage. In fact, doing so might have only fueled everyone's desire for Schwarzenegger to step away from politics and return to the land of Hollywood where he really belongs and where the uniqueness that he is can be appreciated.
While Schwarzenegger will get most of the publicity here, one can't overstate the importance that this film marks the English language debut of South Korean filmmaker Jee-Woon Kim, whose over-the-top stylings probably created as much anticipation for the film as anything related to Schwarzenegger. Kim wisely didn't try to go too over-the-top here, an approach that would have looked mighty awkward with an aging Schwarzenegger and a supporting cast not exactly primed for hardcore action. Kim really excels when he's building the film's several elaborate action sequences, mostly those that come courtesy of Cortez's frequent encounters with law officers along his route to the Mexican border, where one of his henchman (Peter Stormare) is leading a crew that's building a previously non-existent bridge leading across the border from the U.S. to Mexico.
Will he succeed?
Do you remember who the star of this film is?
They say life's about the journey and not the destination, and the same is true for The Last Stand, a far more entertaining film than anyone with a bit of sense likely expected from a 60+ year old Schwarzenegger who has been out of the acting game for nearly 10 years. If you've loved the best of Schwarzenegger, then there's a good chance you'll find enough to appreciate from The Last Stand to make it worth your while.