IN CINEMAS: 24 January
RUNNING TIME: 107 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Sheriff Ray Owens is settled into a life fighting what little crime takes place in sleepy border town Sommerton Junction. He once worked in Los Angeles, but left his narcotics post following a bungled operation that left him wracked with remorse and regret. His current peaceful that existence is shattered when Gabriel Cortez, the most notorious, wanted drug kingpin in the western hemisphere, escapes, with some outside help, from an FBI prisoner convoy. Cortez begins racing towards the US-Mexico border at 250 mph in a specially-outfitted Corvette ZR1 with a hostage in tow. Cortez’ path: straight through Summerton Junction, where a group of lawless mercenaries helping Cortez are also headed…….
I love Arnold Schwarzenegger; I mean he’s not, and never will be, a great actor, and is easily outshone as one by Sylvester Stallone, for example, but he’s always seemed aware of his limitations and has never strayed away from action or comedy, usually doing best when he is combining the two and slyly sending up his own image. And there is no doubt that, for some reason, the camera has always loved this unlikely star whose recent autobiography is an inspiration to read, and he has an admittedly peculiar kind of charisma. His star has dimmed somewhat of late and he hasn’t had a proper starring role since the mediocre Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, but after a lengthy period in politics he seems to be returning to the screen in a big way with several upcoming projects. If The Last Stand is anything to go by, we’re in for a good run of decent action for a change in a time seemingly dominated by CGI, incoherently shot set pieces and boring if pretty stars.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is no classic, don’t expect anything of the standard of some of Arnie’s many classics like Predator or True Lies, but it’s certainly miles better than some of his other more recent offerings like Collateral Damage and I think it should please his many fans. As to whether the younger generation, many of whom may regard Arnie as as an ‘old’ guy and turn their noses up at anything ‘retro’ will take to it I’m less sure, though the filmmakers have done their best to put in elements that they may enjoy too, from the presence of folk like Johnny Knoxville, to a young glamorous villain in a superfast car who you may very well be behind despite him having a female hostage, to direction by Jee-Woon Kim [one of the finest Korean filmmakers today with movies like A Tale Of Two Sisters and I Saw The Devil to his credit] which is somewhat at odds with the old-school approach taken by many aspects of the film in its fast editing and shaky handheld camerawork, though Kim doesn’t overdo this, meaning that I wasn’t as irritated by this style as I normally am in a film!
With The Last Stand, they seem to have had the opinion [which is probably correct], that the sight of Arnie as a one-man army, dispatching hundreds of goons on his own, would be laughable in the wrong way considering the star’s age, so they have lowered considerably the number of villains and given him some help. Luckily the others that make up his motley crew are fun characters that you shouldn’t mind spending some time and who you may end up rooting for as much as Arnie. Knoxville, who I’ve always liked as a performer despite having tired of his Jackass antics years ago, is most amusing as the owner of an antique weapons store, and Luis Guzman [God he is big now!] as one of his three deputies, makes full use of that expressive face of his. As for Arnie, he is no superman and even seems to be playing someone close to his actual age, indicated by little details, like him putting on glasses to examine a wound, and replying when asked how he is: “old”. Self-mockery is nothing new for him, but he does it so well, and don’t worry, he still has the odd over-the-top moment like a great variation on the stunt at the end of The Bourne Identity that may destroy the film’s attempts at plausibility but is still most welcome.
Saying that, the film hedges its bets by not having Arnie go into action about half way through, though that certainly doesn’t mean the picture lacks for action, with plenty going on before the before the big man joins in. There’s a good sequence when Cortez is rescued from the convoy transporting him, an operation that is amusingly called ‘top secret’ even though it involves seven conspicuous black cars, and employs a most novel use of a crane, and plenty of screeching road action involving Cortez and his Corvette which really benefits from what look like real car stunts as opposed to CGI. In fact, I detected very little CGI in this film, right down to what looked like good old-fashioned blood squibs. A great deal of the film’s running time is taken up with blazing gun action and resists the temptation to go crazy with outrageous stunts [the moment mentioned in the above paragraph notwithstanding!], but Kim’s hectic style keeps things fresh and it all leads to a wonderful showdown out of Pale Rider in a film that has a Western feel to it throughout. Inventiveness isn’t always prominent but where else have you seen two cars duelling in a cornfield, and the movie even just about pulls off a convincing fight between big, slow Arnie and a smaller, faster guy half his age.
The Last Stand doesn’t shy away from blood with heads, ears and, in one truly crowd-pleasing moment, arms being damaged, and it’s great to see an ‘R’ rated action movie that hasn’t been watered down. Despite this, The Last Stand is relatively light-hearted, and sometimes its tone [out of Kim’s films, it is closest to The Good The Bad And The Weird in feel] is inconsistent, as if it can’t quite decide what sort of film it wants to be. There are though some big laughs including a gag with an old lady which had the preview audience I was with rolling with laughter. Forest Whitaker has his best role in some time as the LA police captain who wants his prisoner back. He really looks like he is having a good time in this film which gives him some seriously funny moments, and isn’t always a pleasure to see the great Harry Dean Stanton [did you know he turned 81 last July?] in a terrific cameo which you will want to be longer. As for Arnie, well, his acting is the same as it always has been, but it seems like the role of Sheriff Ray Owens has been written specifically for him in the way it plays to his strengths and avoids his weaknesses.
The plot is occasionally awkwardly constructed and a supposed twist at the end just has no impact whatsoever, but there is a decent attempts at characterisation, even with the bad guys. The Last Stand is nothing earth-shattering but it is definitely a thoroughly entertaining time at the movies, though probably more if you’re a guy than a girl and I think having grown up with not just Arnie movies but action movies of the old kind will certainly help your enjoyment. I had a pretty good time. At the time of writing the film’s US box office has been disappointing, a shame because I wouldn’t mind at all if Sheriff Owen and his mates were back.