MOVIE REVIEW: The Last Stand



I want to say that The Last Stand was a macho action-filled romp and ultra-triumphant return to the silver screen for, Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of cinema's greatest heroes.  I want to say that the movie is can't-miss action with stand-up and cheer moments we all expect from the former governor of California.  I want to put The Last Stand right there next to 2007's Live Free or Die Hard, 2008's Rambo, and both chapters of The Expendables on the Hollywood mantle of resurgent 80's heroes and old-fashioned slobber-knockers (thanks WWE's Jim Ross for coining the term).  The problem is that I can't say that about any of those three wishes.

The Last Stand is as tired and uninteresting as its star and main character.  Yes, I will grant that it's great to see Arnold back up on the big screen, but he needed a better return project than this.  Don't get me wrong.  He's rock solid, but he's not enough to carry a picture anymore.  The rest of the parts around him are just too flimsy and weak.  It's really sad when the best movie death in the film comes from a little old lady's second amendment rights instead of the former Terminator.  Let me go on.

The Last Stand is Schwarzenegger's first leading role in nearly ten years (since 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) and acclaimed Korean action director Jee-woon Kim's American debut.  Arnold stars as Ray Owens, a near-retirement sheriff of a sleepy Arizona border town named Sommerton.  Little do we know (yet as predictably as we expect), Ray's seen a little more than cow-tipping and cups of diner coffee in his day.  He's happily in Arizona out of the big action after spending his formative years working narcotics in Los Angeles.  He manages an under-qualified staff of deputies consisting of right-hand caballero Figuerola (professional movie sidekick Luis Guzman), eager-beaver "red shirt" Sam (TV star Zach Gilford of Friday Night Lights and The Mob Doctor), and squeaky clean assertive girl Sarah (Thor's Jaimie Alexander).

When a cocky Mexican drug cartel leader named Gabriel Cortez (Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega of Abre Los Ojos) makes a daring nighttime Las Vegas escape from FBI prisoner transport, the feds, led by an out-of-breath and constantly-flabbergasted Academy Award winner Forrest Whitaker's Agent Bannister, are hot on his trail.  Stealing a prized and souped-up Corvette ZR-1 that can top 200 miles per hour, Cortez, with hostage in tow, out-muscles and outmatches the authorities and their roadblocks.  Cortez is on a sprint to forgotten Sommerton where a secret makeshift bridge has been constructed by his cartel thugs (led by professional movie villain and weirdo Peter Stormare) across the canyon to Mexico.

With a car that can't be caught, that leaves Sheriff Owens and the town of Sommerton as the only thing slowing him down from escaping.  Having been alerted of Cortez's path by Bannister, rather than run, Owens gets his deputies ready and enlists a pair of new trigger-happy allies, 300's Rodrigo Santoro's jailed hometown Marine that pines for Sarah and Jackass's Johnny Knoxville's town crazy and his enormous secret cache of (likely illegal) weapons.  Together, they live up to the movie's title in taking on Cortez and his crew in a last ditch effort to stop their escape.

The Last Stand is high on the body count, but low on style.  Nothing drops your jaw or makes you perk up in your seat.  With a muscle car gimmick that feels borrowed from a rejected Fast and Furious script (and we all know there can't be many of those), only fleeting spurts of decent or compelling action come forth.  The movie teases the macho Arnold we've been salivating for, but it just doesn't deliver.  His fifteen or so minutes in The Expendables 2 are better than the 107 minutes here in The Last Stand.  

Just when you start to get riled up for some impending Austrian beatdowns or cheeky one-liners, the bungling scene thieves of Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville, and Peter Stormare ruin the moment with ineptitude.  Simply put, no one is worthy to stand toe-to-toe or shoulder-to-shoulder with him in this film.

Like I said before, Arnold does what he can (without looking really interested), but the supporting pieces around him really drag the movie down.  He's still a classic and deserves better than this, even at 65 years old.  I think fellow resurrected action heroes Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, and even Tom Cruise to an extent after returning to the Mission: Impossible franchise just over a year ago had the advantage of returning to iconic and familiar characters with their recent and successful comebacks (including the upcoming A Good Day to Die Hard and Bullet to the Head both coming next month).  If I was a Hollywood agent or casting director, I would have had Arnold surprise and turn some heads with a Dutch cameo instead of Laurence Fishburne's feeble character in 2010's Predators.  Just his CGI face made for the best moment of Terminator: Salvation the year before. The Last Stand had none of that buzz.  Maybe his involvement in the always-rumored fifth Terminator installment will bring Arnold back in style.

LESSON #1: IF YOU ARE IN LAW ENFORCEMENT, GET BETTER WALKIE-TALKIES OR SIMILAR COMMUNICATION DEVICES-- I know this is cheesy and petty, but I lost count how many times Arnold's deputies or Forest Whitaker's feds fumbled with bad walkie-talkie reception or malfunction.  It's 2013.  We're two years from hoverboards and have over 50 million iPhone users and we (or Hollywood screenwriters) can't develop better walkie-talkies (or better cop fail script devices).

LESSON #2: EVERY SMALL TOWN HAS ONE CRAZY PERSON'S "RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS" ARSENAL JUST WAITING FOR THE RIGHT TIME TO "RED DAWN" SOME S - - T UP-- As sarcastic as I'm being, I bet I'm not wrong about every idyllic little hamlet in America having one Johnny Knoxville character who's the cute town idiot with an armory waiting to be unleashed for the right moment, whether it's invading Russians, North Koreans, or one sheriff who's zany enough to deputize him to prevent one drug cartel leader and a handful of men from blowing through your streets.  So much for gun control, eh comrades, eh?

LESSON #3: YOU'RE NEVER TOO OLD TO FIGHT-- In true movie fashion, Arnold will likely never be too old to put on some sunglasses, take off some sunglasses, hold up a huge gun, shoot a huge gun, or out-fight a man half his age hand-to-hand.  For the movie's plot, his sheriff character believes in the law and doing the right thing, even when outmatched.  He has the chance to leave this to feds, but takes pride in protecting this adopted hometown.