Movie Review: The Last Stand
By Matthew Huntley
January 28, 2013
The Last Stand would have fit right in among the action movies of late 1980s and early ‘90s, or the vertex of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career. It follows their formula to a tee, with Arnold playing a former big-city cop who’s now settled into the quiet life as a small-town sheriff. When some really bad guys pass through town, he must resort to his erstwhile role as a bad*ss enforcer and show them who’s boss. This entails, among other things, operating a minigun, shooting guys in the head while jumping off buildings, and driving recklessly through a corn field. It also means Arnold’s character can withstand getting stabbed in the leg about a half dozen times, yet still manage to walk without a limp.
The late ‘80s/early ‘90s flourished with movies like this, and because many of them worked as mindless entertainment back then, there’s no reason to think they can’t work now. After all, it wasn’t the era that made these kinds of movies fun and exciting, but rather their ridiculous content and larger-than-life heroes, namely Schwarzenegger, who still have a place in the action movie landscape, and probably always will.
What’s changed, of course, is Schwarzenegger is now 20 years older. We’re aware of that and the writers of The Last Stand are aware of that. The screenplay specifically caters to the idea of an aging lawman forced out of his comfort zone to do battle with a bunch of younger, more technology-driven criminals. There’s more than one reference to Arnold’s age, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t harp on it, at least for too long, and neither do we. Sure, in his first close-up we notice his hair is thinning and he has his fair share of wrinkles (a reminder that he’s now 66-years-old), but once the movie hits its stride, we all but forget and realize the former governor of California still has what it takes to be an action star.
The plot is standard-issue for the genre. A Mexican drug lord named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega), who’s “as dangerous as Pablo Escobar,” escapes FBI custody and speeds toward the Mexican border in his zero one Corvette, which, according to the movie, is the fastest consumer car on the market. It’s practically a race car and comes equipped with all sorts of neat features, like a night vision monitor that allows the driver to turn off the headlights and drive in the dark.
Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) was in charge of transporting Cortez from Las Vegas to a maximum security prison, but now he’s in charge of re-capturing him. Cortez commands a gang of gun-wielding thugs, led by Peter Stormare, who are building him a makeshift bridge across the narrow canyon from Arizona to Mexico. The only thing standing in their way - literally - is Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) and his team of deputies in the remote town of Sommerton (not to be confused with the real-life Somerton), and they’re ready to put up a fight.
No other plot information is required because you already know how it’s going to transpire, even if you’ve never seen an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie before. And it’s not as though anyone is going to The Last Stand for its plot. They’re going because they want to see Schwarzenegger kick some butt, and hopefully during some inventive, energetic action sequences. Luckily, the movie delivers both. Director Jee-woo Kim, well-known in the world of South Korean cinema, knows how to stage the action scenes so they contain vigor and momentum, even if they are completely implausible. One such instance takes place when one of Owens’ honorary deputies (Rodrigo Santoro) drives a school bus maniacally through town and performs a 180-degree turn. Out of the back pops Owens, who starts firing off hundreds of bullets in a way that only Schwarzenegger and a handful of other stars (Bruce Willis comes to mind) could make convincing. He’s joined by the eccentric Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville), who owns a museum of antique weaponry that’s perfect for such an occasion.
The last half of the movie is chock full of over-the-top scenes like this, which are fun and humorous, and the filmmakers hardly take them seriously. We enjoy them, simply, for their frivolity, like Luis Guzmán rising from the ashes to do some damage of his own and a sweet old lady debunking the idea that senior citizens don’t know how to defend themselves.
And it just wouldn’t be a Schwarzenegger movie without those splendid one-liners. My favorite: “Welcome to Sommerton.”
On paper, movies like the generically-titled The Last Stand aren’t supposed to work. They’re cheesy, obvious and, let’s face it, stupid. But somehow Schwarzenegger and company find a way to make them work. This was Schwarzenegger’s specialty during his heyday - getting us to care about his characters and respond to the action with laughter and enthusiasm. Granted, the appeal is now more limited, but the movie is still entertaining, even by today’s standards. Will this prove to be Arnold’s comeback? Will he resurrect himself as an action hero for a whole new generation? No; his moment of glory has passed and we’re not likely to see him churn out a new movie every couple years like he used to. But that’s not to say we wouldn’t welcome a reunion every now and then, reminding us why he was, at one time, the biggest action star in the world.