Arnold Schwarzenegger is back, and his return is an entertaining action picture that is exactly what it thinks it is.
When a big time drug criminal, Gabriel Cortez, escapes from F.B.I. custody and makes a break for the Mexican border only one town stands in his way with a Sheriff that isn’t going to roll over.
That’s the plot for the most part, but we do get a little background into the inner workings of the small town police force as they investigate a murder of one of their citizens by Cortez’s forward operating border bridge team. Schwarzenegger plays the town’s Sheriff and he takes us on a tour of all the big players for the film, which we quickly discover are mostly cliches: The young cop who wants to be more, the grizzled veteran that can’t get his head on straight, the country bumpkin with an illegal army arsenal of weapons, and some random bystanders that really sell us on this small town setting. Schwarzenegger even takes on a grizzled, relaxed and folksy persona who wants to just get through his day off. I actually quite like Schwarzenegger in this role and I imagine it’s no coincidence he is embracing his own age in the part. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to kick some ass, though, and the film has some solid set pieces to enjoy.
To direct, Schwarzenegger and his team brought in accomplished genre jumping Korean director Jee-woon Kim. He might not bring a whole lot of creativity to the story, but he makes the film nice to look at and makes the action look damn good. The scope of the film is small, taking place in five locations and along lots of barren highway, but Kim successfully makes a car the third lead in the picture. Cortez is driving some super fast car that can outrun helicopters and Kim gives the car a handful of sequences to show just how cool it is. The gun play looks as good as the car chases and Kim seems to have a really great sense of space, making the action extremely clear and easy to follow.
The script unfortunately isn’t as inspired as the direction, and the aforementioned cliched characters are accompanied by some terrible dialogue and plot developments. Everything is predictable and a little bit absurd, but what were you really expecting for Arnold’s return? If it’s any saving grace, it could have been a lot worse; as it stands it just doesn’t try to be anything new or interesting. The film also goes on a bit too long and I am not too sure how I feel about the film’s big climatic moment; it might have been a bridge too far (pun totally intended).
The plot is also riddled with pointless story lines and some non-starters that have no effect on the film whatsoever. A female F.B.I. agent, and the F.B.I. in general, are beyond pointless and I could have cared less about them. They seem like they are almost there as an anti-establishment symbol as the government agents are constantly screwing up and made out as idiots. The film is arguably anti-government and glamorizes the rural community’s ability to do everything on their own and way better than the government ever could. Weird choice.
The supporting cast is all in on the fun at least, and it is a damn shame we didn’t get more of the always great Peter Stormare. He is super weird, having a blast and knows exactly what movie he is in. Luis Guzman provides some comedic relief, but I really feel like his talents were wasted here. Eduardo Noriega is an odd casting choice as Cortez; he is unintelligible half the time and just has a weird charisma that never really works or is all that scary. I don’t know what Forest Whitaker is doing in this movie, especially since his character is portrayed as a failure at almost every turn. Jaimie Alexander, Rodrigo Santoro and Zach Gilford all come in and play their roles to a T, while Johnny Knoxville pops up in an extended cameo as a hair brained idiot who is canonized as a hero.
The Last Stand is exactly what it looks like. You could rip it to shreds on a character and story level with ease, but the action keeps everything entertaining for the most part. If you come in worrying about the story and characters in this you are doing The Last Stand wrong, you should come and enjoy Arnold being back on the big screen and be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the action. I would love to see Kim do another English language film and apply his talents to a smarter picture, but he makes the most out of The Last Stand and everything it was trying to be. Schwarzenegger fans should not miss.
The Last Stand is a C