Review: The Last Stand
PLOT:A weary sheriff learns that a recently escaped drug lord, on the run from the Feds, aims to cross the border into Mexico via his dusty little town. In order to stop the man - and the mercenaries that are already laying in wait nearby - he must assemble a small, ragtag army.
REVIEW: A very welcome respite from the "Jason Bourne-ing" of most action films released nowadays, THE LAST STAND is a proudly over-the-top, shamelessly violent and frequently funny mash-up of high-octane shoot-em-up and conventional western. It marks the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to leading man status, but almost just as importantly, announces the arrival - to American audiences, anyway - of the supremely talented Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, who juices up some very old-school ideas and set-pieces with his wildly kinetic style. THE LAST STAND is a must for those who have eagerly been awaiting Arnold's return, and a "probably should" for those of you who are looking for an action film that offers crazy fun as opposed to gritty realism.
Schwarzenegger, looking like he's still shaking off the cobwebs a bit, plays Sheriff Ray Owens, a former L.A. police officer who has relocated to the quiet town of Sommerton Junction, where he mans of force of four and doesn't encounter problems much more extreme than the fabled "cat in a tree." Things begin to change, however, when he astutely notices a couple of out-of-town truckers acting suspicious. Ray's old instincts aren't incorrect, these dudes are bad news: they're a team of mercenaries, led by a smirking creep named Burrell (Peter Stormare), who are waiting in the border town for the arrival of one Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), feared drug lord and all around nasty customer. Cortez has just escaped the custody of the federal government and is en route to Sommerton, thanks to its proximity to the border and the relative ease it'll take for him to pass through. Or so he thought!
THE LAST STAND smartly plays out in a matter of hours; from Cortez's escape from Las Vegas to his arrival in Sommerton, the film's timeline is from about 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. In that time, Owens squares off against some of the criminals who've already invaded his town, loses a deputy, takes on a few new ones and prepares to tackle whatever Cortez and Burrell can throw at him. Meanwhile, Cortez's journey to the town is intensified by his ride: a lightning-fast Corvette that goes over 200 MPH and acts like a stealth aircraft on wheels. This thing is so super cool that it instantly joins to ranks of the great movie cars. (And this is coming from someone who never notices or cares about cars in movies.)
Naturally, it all leads to a balls-out showdown in the town, as Arnold and his ragtag bunch are thoroughly outnumbered and yet fight back doggedly. What engages the audience beyond the daunting odds is that Arnold's team, which consists of Johnny Knoxville (as a gun-loving town kook), Luis Guzman (as a cranky deputy), Jaimie Alexander (the cute but feisty deputy) and Rodrigo Santoro (as the once-great football player, now a loser), is a likable group that really doesn't seem to stand a chance. The tension that builds until the finale is quite strong, and once the fireworks begin, the movie really cranks into overdrive.
Conventionally handled, THE LAST STAND would likely be a passable entry into Arnold's oeuvre; an okay comeback but not one worth truly celebrating. However, Kim Jee-Woon is not a hack, and he infuses just about every scene with vibrancy and humor. Several sequences would be routine in another's hands - a sequence where a team of mercenaries shoot at pinned-down deputies, a car chase in a cornfield - but Kim's skill with the camera and willingness to allow pure enjoyment to enter the proceedings invigorates the film. Don't be mistaken: it's not a comedy in the strictest sense, and there are a handful of violent moments that shock the room. But Kim knows he's making an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie; he's not going to tackle it with the same ferocity as he did his last effort, the superb (and scary) detective story I SAW THE DEVIL. (THE LAST STAND, in tone, is much closer to his buoyant action-western THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD.)
As for Arnold, it's undeniable that he cuts a somewhat worn-out figure here, but the movie is wise to comment on that frequently and good-naturedly. It's also undeniable that it's just plain good to see him take the lead in what is a role very well suited for him. He doesn't exactly come off as natural - some of his line-readings are as awkward as ever - but that Arnold glare is still imposing, and damn if he doesn't handle a shotgun just like it's the 1980s all over again. We even get a classic "Arnold loads up" sequence, which never goes out of style. Even though the film wasn't written for him specifically (Liam Neeson was once attached), THE LAST STAND is Arnold territory and he walks it with confidence, but his greatest strength here is aligning himself with a director who keeps the material from sagging.